Marijuana might be legal in the country’s capital, but not for employees of the U.S. government. The sobering reminder came in the form of a new guidance issued Wednesday by the Office of Personnel Management. It stated that federal workers, even those living in states where marijuana is legal, are subject to federal, not local, law – and all the penalties that come with it.
“Heads of agencies are expected to advise their workforce that legislative changes by some states and the District of Columbia do not alter federal law, existing suitability criteria or Executive Branch policies regarding marijuana,” Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said in a statement posted on the agency’s website. The guidance doesn’t change existing laws barring federal employees from participating in activities the government considers illegal. It simply underscores a point that may have gotten lost in the shuffle, or that some government employees might rather forget.
Twenty-three states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. Three states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – along with D.C. allow pot to be consumed for medical and recreational purposes. The drug remains illegal at the federal level, despite the Department of Justice having promised not to challenge states that decide to legalize it.
The U.S. government employs roughly 4.1 million Americans. About half a million of them live in the District of Columbia, which legalized recreational pot in February. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order requiring federal workplaces to remain drug-free. Federal employees are subject to routine and random drug testing, especially those who hold positions related to national security and law enforcement, according to the Washington Post.
Legal experts have previously addressed the question of whether marijuana legalization would allow government workers legal protections should they fail a drug test. “The federal law prohibits marijuana use,” R. Scott Oswald, managing principal at The Employment Law Group P.C., told the Hill in March. “Say you work for [the Department of Defense] in D.C., the fact that it’s legal has no bearing at all for the federal worker.”