Congressman introduces bill to prevent government employees from using marijuana

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A GOP congressman has introduced a bill to create a federal workforce training program to provide government employers with information about the effects of marijuana and other drug use in service, as well as best practices for preventing substance use.

Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) introduced the bill, titled the “Prevention of Impairment in the Workplace Act,” late last month.

The proposal would authorize the Secretary of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to study programs designed to “educate employers, workers and affected populations in the workplace” about cannabis use, opioids and other drugs at work.

This research would involve examining prevention strategies and safety risks associated with on-duty marijuana use.

The department would additionally be responsible for developing an “on-the-job training program to be made available to full-time and part-time employees and individuals employed by a state or federal government.” This program should be created in consultation with a national non-profit organization “with relevant experience”.

The program would also cover the impacts of work impairment from cannabis and other substances, the need for prevention policies, the “signs and symptoms” of impairment, how employers should respond to perceived impairment and advice on “relevant laws and regulations”. .”


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“We owe it to every American to create the safest workplace possible,” Owens said in a press release, adding that the overdose crisis largely attributable to drugs like opioids and methamphetamine underscores the urgency of legislation.

By the federal government’s own admission, there have been no reports of cannabis-related overdose deaths.

The invoicewhich has no co-sponsors, “is responding to this crisis head-on with a comprehensive strategy by creating a national training program to help employers prevent, recognize and respond to disabilities,” he said.

Jenny Burke, vice president of impaired practice at the National Safety Council (NSC), said it’s “so important to create ways for employers to deal with these safety risks that are often under -studied but ubiquitous at work and outside”.

“This bill will pave the way for employers to effectively recognize and respond to all types of disabilities, which will save lives,” she said. “NSC is ready to help implement large-scale workplace training and safety-centric evidence-based best practices.”

As more states move to legalize marijuana in one form or another, cannabis policies in the workplace have come under intense scrutiny.

The nation’s largest union representing federal employees recently passed a resolution supporting the legalization of marijuana and calling for an end to policies that penalize federal employees who use cannabis responsibly while off the job. states where it is legal.

A federal marijuana legalization bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last month contains a provision that would specifically prohibit federal employers from testing workers for cannabis, with certain exceptions for sensitive positions such as law enforcement and those involving national security.

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee leadership recently urged the White House to “continue to review policies and guidelines regarding the hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in states where private use of marijuana marijuana by this person is not prohibited by state law” as part of a Financial Services and Government Expenditure (FSGG) report.

It specifically calls for the executive branch to enforce drug testing standards with “consistency and fairness”.

In June, the Senate Intelligence Committee separately passed an amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would prohibit the federal government from denying people the security clearances they need to work in intelligence agencies simply because they used marijuana.

But in general, federal agencies have been reluctant to relax cannabis-related employment rules despite state efforts to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use.

For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently proposed changes to drug testing policies for federal workers that would specify that having a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana or any other Schedule I drug is not a valid excuse for a positive result. Drug test.

Meanwhile, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said late last year that federal employers should not outright reject applicants for security clearances for past use and should exercise discretion in this regard. for those who have cannabis investments in their stock portfolios.

The FBI updated its hiring policies last year so that applicants are only automatically disqualified from joining the agency if they admit to using marijuana within a year of applying. Previously, future agency employees could not have used cannabis in the past three years.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) also took a different approach to its cannabis policy in 2020, stating in an advisory that it would not test drivers for CBD. However, the DOT recently reiterated that the workforce it regulates is prohibited from using marijuana and will continue to be tested for THC regardless of state policy. when it comes to cannabis.

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sent a letter to the DOT chief in May, saying the agency’s policies on drug-testing truckers and other commercial drivers for marijuana are unnecessarily costing workers their jobs. people and contribute to supply chain issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also stressed to its employees that they are prohibited from using marijuana – or investing directly in the industry – regardless of state law or changes in “social norms” around cannabis.

And while the Biden administration has instituted a policy of granting waivers to some workers who admit to previously using cannabis, it has come under fire from lawyers following reports that it has fired or otherwise punished dozens. of employees who were honest about their history with marijuana.

Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki tried to play down the fallout, with little success, and her office last year issued a statement saying no one had been fired for “consuming of marijuana years ago”, and that no one had been fired “due to infrequent use in the previous 12 months.

At the state level, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) recently signed an executive order to provide broad professional licensing protections to workers who use marijuana under state law. The ruling also bars state agencies from assisting with any out-of-state investigations related to legal cannabis conduct that could result in employment penalties.

In addition, a union representing firefighters claimed a New York City legal directive directing government agencies, including the New York City Fire Department (NYFD) and New York Police Department (NYPD ), to stop testing workers for marijuana since the state enacted legalization.

Last year, the state Department of Labor separately announced in guidelines that employers in New York are no longer allowed to test most workers for marijuana, with some exceptions. Even before legalization was enacted, New York City officials had established a local ban on pre-employment cannabis testing.

Last month, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed a bill that would ban most workplaces from firing or punishing employees for off-hours marijuana use.

In Missouri, the St. Louis County Board approved a bill in March to ban pre-employment and random cannabis testing for most workers in the county.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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