Kanna Knowledge 

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In our last issue of Kanna Knowledge, we covered the current brouhaha about White House employees reportedly being sacked for prior cannabis use, even in the wake of prior comments made by the Biden administration. So just what is the current landscape for federal and state government workers who are current cannabis users or have used cannabis in the past? There’s no longer a simple answer like the flat-out “you will be terminated” of past decades.

One starting point is the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which has taken note of their own survey that nearly half of American adults have used cannabis. A recent memorandum, “Assessing the Suitability/Fitness of Applicants or Appointees on the Basis of Marijuana Use,” is attempting to provide guidance to federal agencies who encounter well-qualified applicants with prior usage histories. While cannabis of course remains an illegal Schedule 1 drug to the Federal government, the memorandum represents a major shift in how past use Is viewed.

According to the Acting Director of the Office:

  • Prior cannabis use is not an automatic disqualification. “It would be inconsistent with suitability regulations to implement a policy of finding an individual unfit or unsuitable for federal service solely on the basis of recency of marijuana use.”
  • Someone who has used cannabis in the past, but no longer does so, should be viewed differently than a current user.
  • Agencies must be cautious before making a determination of applicant unsuitability due to a prior conviction for possession. “Depending on the circumstances, a marijuana possession offense might not be incompatible with employment in the position sought.”

On the state level, rules vary. Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska are the only three states that currently ban any form of cannabis use. Laws differ in all other states, but each state allows, at the least, CBD or low-THC use. Some allow medical cannabis, and some full adult usage. Some make it illegal for employers to reject applicants for failing a cannabis screen, while some allow termination for just one positive test. This variance makes it difficult for multi‑state employers to craft one all-encompassing employee policy.

Lastly, there are some collateral consequences that can affect certain job classifications where security clearances are required. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, used for firearm permits, considers cannabis users to be prohibited persons. Even medical cannabis users who visit dispensaries will have their purchases flagged and be denied requested clearances. While prior usage is not an automatic bar from obtaining clearance, take note that admitting it will make the process more difficult.