While marijuana is increasingly becoming legalized for recreational as well as medicinal use (for example, in Virginia and Washington, D.C.), it’s still illegal under federal law. That can be a problem for federal employees as well as applicants for federal jobs who have to submit to drug testing either to get or keep a job.
Federal agencies that drug test employees have a legal right to terminate them for something they do outside of work that’s legal where they live. Qualified applicants can be denied jobs for the same reason.
The laws in the U.S. around marijuana use are certainly conflicting. Even within the federal government, there is no one blanket policy across agencies. For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has marijuana restrictions only for people in “safety-sensitive” positions.
Do federal agencies bend the rules for high-value employees?
However, complete bans on testing positive or admitting to marijuana use are not an option if the federal government wants to attract and keep good people, according to marijuana reform advocates. One of them notes, “I’m sure every agency bends the rules if they have a particular target hire or a very valuable employee they want to keep on board.”
The White House does have strict policies around marijuana use for its employees. While there were reports that early in the Biden administration, multiple staff members either were suspended or not allowed to work on the premises due to marijuana use, it says no one’s job is jeopardized by “casual or infrequent use” or “usage from years ago.”
Federal agencies need to have clear policies around evidence of marijuana use found in drug testing or disclosed by applicants and employees, and it’s crucial that these policies are consistently applied. If you believe you wrongly faced negative repercussions, like termination, due to marijuana use, it may be wise to seek legal guidance.