Employment status can limit access to state-legal marijuana

US Navy personnel recently received surprising news when food giant PepsiCo launched a new caffeinated beverage, unplugged rockstar. This new drink “will make you and your sailors drug-test positive,” the Navy warns. What may seem odd is actually a symptom of a societal dysfunction that limits access to legal marijuana to millions of people due to their employment status.

There are now a large majority of Americans who live in states where at least some marijuana, mostly medical, is legal. There are well over 200 million Americans who live in areas where a positive marijuana test is not proof of illegal behavior. Only 13 states, including our own Wisconsin, still consider medical marijuana illegal.

A failed marijuana drug test is meaningless in a state where recreational marijuana is legal or if the person in question was legally entitled to access their state’s medical marijuana program. In most states, private sector employees live in a gray area, as employers can choose to condone the legal use of marijuana on their employees’ off-duty time, or they can choose to fire them for it.

NORML reports that 21 states have provisions to protect employees from employment discrimination based on legal use of marijuana in their free time. However, the nature of employment at will dictates that employees are, in fact, devoid of any real protection since employers can simply lie about the reasons for a layoff.

Beyond access to marijuana, whether medical or recreational, there is an entire industry dedicated to federally legal hemp. Since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, which is just another word for cannabis, only Delta-9 THC (which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis) is banned. All strains of the plant low in Delta-9 THC, as well as all products using other cannabis components, are legal by default.

Delta-8 THC, THC-O, CBD and other cannabinoids have flourished across the country, even in states that have chosen to ban marijuana because these products contain little or no Delta-9 THC . Some of them are psychoactive, others are simply relaxing or anti-inflammatory, but all of them are legal in all states. This has led to a trend of incorporating legal cannabinoids into foods, beverages, and more. PepsiCo’s new drink, Rockstar Unplugged, features hemp seeds and herbal blends, following this trend of using cannabis as a dietary supplement. And that’s the problem for millions of Americans.

Federal employees are not allowed to participate

There is one category of the population that does not benefit from the legal marijuana market: federal employees. High-THC cannabis is still federally illegal. It’s a Schedule I drug, the harshest category under the Controlled Substances Act, so a positive test is grounds for dismissal or worse, among government workers. federal.

In a notice recently published in the Federal Register, the US Department of Health and Human Services clarified that this applies even if it is medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor in one of the 37 states where the medical marijuana is legal. “A physician’s authorization or medical recommendation for a Schedule 1 controlled substance is not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test result,” the advisory states.

It’s not the worst yet. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “passive exposure to marijuana smoke and ingestion of food products containing marijuana are also not acceptable medical explanations for a drug test result. positive drug”. In other words, testing positive for marijuana for any reason, including by accident and completely legal and benign actions, still counts as a major violation. This is extremely strict, given that marijuana is a unique substance when it comes to testing.

Thanks to urine tests, most drugs are only detectable a few days after ingestion. Someone could binge cocaine, take a week off, and then have their urine test negative. But that same person could test positive for marijuana despite not having touched cannabis in months. THC binds to fat particles and remains in the body in sufficient quantities to trigger a positive drug test result for up to three months after the last ingestion. That’s why Navy service members were warned to avoid the new drink Pepsi; even the potential trace of THC in the drink could lead to a positive urine test weeks later.

“Sailors and Marines are prohibited from using any product made or derived from hemp, including CBD, regardless of the product’s THC concentration, claimed or actual, and regardless of whether that product can be legally purchased. , sold and used under applicable civilian law,” the Navy told its military. This also applies to other branches of the armed forces, potentially preventing millions of Americans from even using federal law. . and status of legal CBD products.

There are approximately two million civilians employed by the US government outside of the military personnel covered by this policy. None are allowed to participate in the national craze for legal cannabis products, and all are at risk of giving a false positive on a drug test because a company has incorporated a form of legal cannabis into their products.

Currently, military service members could be punished with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all wages, and up to five years in prison for marijuana use. Being drunk on duty carries a much lighter sentence, with a maximum of nine months imprisonment and a discharge for misconduct, which is much less severe than a dishonorable discharge. The penalties for being drunk off duty are even lighter, while the penalties are extremely severe for military members who used marijuana while off duty…or, indeed, military members who drank an energy drink made from hemp seeds. out of order.

An effort exists to remedy this injustice. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) is the sponsor of a bill, the Restoring Fairness for Marijuana Offenses Act (REFORM). It aims to align punishments for marijuana use with punishments for alcohol consumption. It only addresses part of the problems with federal oversight of marijuana use among their own workers, but progress has to start somewhere.

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