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Bipartisan Bill Introduced in House to Protect Veterans’ Cannabis Treatment Options

March 15, 2019 by TWN Staff
Pharmacist Emile Abdo at Uptown Rx Pharmacy & Nutrition in Dallas on February 16, 2019. As CBD products pop up at gas stations and smoothie shops, the three licensed cannabis companies in Texas have an unusual request: They're calling for more regulation. (Shaban Athuman/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Representative Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and Don Young, R-Alaska, have introduced the bipartisan Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act (H.R.1687).

The bill would protect veterans’ cannabis treatment options and their ability to be employed by the federal government. Currently, use of marijuana by federal employees is prohibited by law and any use is cause for termination.

Enacted in 1986, the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program made it a condition for employment that all civilian employees at executive branch agencies be prohibited from using federally illegal substances on or off duty.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 33 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, and 47 states have some form of medical marijuana law; however, it remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, federal employees can be denied employment or terminated due to testing positive for marijuana metabolites, even if their use is in compliance with state law.

This conflict between state and federal laws limits treatment options and federal employment opportunities, particularly impacting veterans who comprise approximately one-third of the federal workforce and whose medical cannabis use to treat chronic pain and PTSD has been found to be double the rate of the general public.

“For our veterans’, cannabis has been shown to address chronic pain and PTSD, often replacing addictive and harmful opioids,” Representative Crist said.

“At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of our veterans’ community. This conflict, between medical care and maintaining employment, needs to be resolved,” Crist continued. “For federal employees complying with state cannabis law, they shouldn’t have to choose between a proven treatment and their job.”

Representative Young said he believed the current Congress will reform of the nation’s cannabis laws based on a states’ right approach.

“This bill would protect federal workers, including veterans, from discrimination should they be participating in activities compliant with state-level cannabis laws on their personal time,” YOung said. “The last thing we need is to drive talented workers away from these employment opportunities. As a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus I remain committed to promoting this bill as well as other legislation to protect individuals and reform our federal cannabis laws.”

A recent American Legion poll found broad support for cannabis treatment among veterans and caregivers, as well as that one in five veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition.

Writing to express their support for the bill, Veterans Cannabis Coalition co-founders Eric Goepel and Bill Ferguson said they know that effective medical treatment and gainful employment are essential in long-term positive veteran outcomes.

“We also know millions of veterans use cannabis to treat their service-connected injuries and illnesses,” their letter said. “Today, in states where it is otherwise legal, veterans in federal employment find themselves caught between using a low-risk, high-benefit treatment like cannabis and losing their job, or continuing to take addictive pharmaceuticals that have debilitating side-effects and keeping their paycheck.

“This flies in the face of the promise the federal government has made to every veteran to provide the best care possible. The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act is a move in the right direction to promote veteran and public health and protect citizens from government overreach,” Goepel and Ferguson said.

Sean Kiernan, CEO of the Weed for Warriors Project, another veterans advocacy group, said the bill is a “much-needed next step for our disabled veterans on the road to recovery.”

“While we have seen great progress for disabled veterans wishing to choose legal cannabis over pharmaceuticals, we have not seen employers embracing disabled veterans’ right to choose cannabis – creating a roadblock to the dignity of employment for too many,” Kiernan said. “Rep Crist’s bill will remove cannabis as a prohibitive factor in Federal employment without endangering the public’s safety – allowing our Great Country to respect the sacrifice our heroes made when they stood up for Freedom.  We urge a ‘yes’ vote on H.R.1687. It is one of the most important votes our leaders can take in re-enfranchising our disabled veterans into the community.”

The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act prohibits marijuana metabolite testing from being used as the sole factor to deny or terminate federal employment for civilian positions at executive branch agencies if the individual is in compliance with the marijuana laws in their state of residence.

The bill only extends to an individual’s past, private use of cannabis, and does not prohibit probable cause testing if an individual is believed to be impaired at work. It also does not apply to individuals occupying or seeking a position requiring a top-secret clearance.

The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act is supported by Americans for Safe Access, Florida for Care, Marijuana Policy Project, National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, and Weed for Warriors Project.

A copy of the bill’s text can be found here.

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