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Bill Introduced to Protect Employment of Legal Marijuana Consumers

Thanks to a newly introduced bill, advances in protections for legal marijuana users may happen in the near future.

A.J. Herrington

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Bill Introduced to Protect Employment of Legal Marijuana Consumers
Darren J. Bradley/ Shutterstock

A bill introduced in Congress last week would offer employment protections to federal workers who use marijuana in accordance with the laws of their state. The bipartisan measure was introduced on July 26 and is co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA).

The state of Georgia legalized the medical use of cannabis in 2015, and Florida followed with a similar law the following year.

Bill Protects Federal Workers

The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act (H.R. 6589) would prevent workers who test positive for using cannabis, either medicinally or recreationally, in compliance with the laws of the state in which they reside. The measure would prevent the government from denying employment or subjecting them “to any other adverse personnel action,” according to the text of the bill.

The bill would apply to federal workers “whose residence is in a State where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited,” even if their job is in a state without legal cannabis. More than 200 million people live in the 30 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana. Nine of those states have also passed measures legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.

Despite the legality of medical cannabis in a majority of the states, federal workers who test positive for cannabis can still be fired under current policies. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, a designation which indicates that cannabis has no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse.

H.R. 6895 would protect all civilian federal agency employees except those with a top secret security clearance.

The bill does not, however, give workers permission to be high at work. An exception in the measure allows disciplinary action for an employee if there is probable cause to believe that the individual is under the influence of marijuana while on the job.

Earlier Bill Failed

Earlier this legislative session, Rep. Crist offered a similar but narrower amendment to an appropriations bill that would have only covered military veterans who are also employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The provision would have forbidden the use of federal funds to report positive drug tests of veterans using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws. However, the amendments failed to make it to the House floor for a vote by the full body after being blocked by the House Rules Committee. The committee, led by anti-pot chair Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, has blocked all cannabis bills and amendments since May 2016.

The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act builds on the failed VA amendment, expanding protections to all civilian federal employees who live in states with legal pot.

Bill Referred to Committee

The “Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act” was introduced in the House on July 26, only hours before the body adjourned for an August recess. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for consideration. They will take up the bill once the House of Representatives reconvenes after Labor Day.

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