Feb 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

OPM: Marijuana use not automatic disqualifier for federal employment

Someone smoking a marijuana cigarette in New York in April 2020.
Someone smoking a marijuana cigarette in New York in April 2020. Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Federal agencies should not automatically disqualify job applicants for using or possessing marijuana, the Office of Personnel Management said in a memo Friday.

Driving the news: Since more states are legalizing marijuana, OPM said emphasizing marijuana use as a disqualifying factor during the application process is making it increasingly difficult for federal agencies to find or maintain talented workers.

What they're saying: “As more state laws have changed, federal agencies are increasingly encountering individuals whose knowledge, skills, and abilities make them well-qualified for a position, but whose marijuana use may or may not be of concern when considering the suitability or fitness of the individual for the position,” Kathleen M. McGettigan, acting director of OPM, said in the memo, sent to federal agencies.

  • "OPM’s suitability regulations regarding illegal drug use do not permit agencies to automatically find individuals unsuitable for federal service on the basis of marijuana use prior to appointment," the memo added.
  • "Past marijuana use, including recently discontinued marijuana use, should be viewed differently from ongoing marijuana use. The nature and seriousness of the use and the nature of the specific position for which the person is applying are also likely to be important considerations."
  • When "agencies consider the suitability or fitness of an applicant or appointee for a position, the individual’s conduct must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the impact, if any, to the integrity and the efficiency of the Government."

The big picture: OPM said in a statement that Friday's memo “does not represent a change to OPM’s suitability/fitness policy. However, it does affirm that regulations do not permit agencies to automatically find individuals unsuitable for federal employment based on use or possession of marijuana,” per Washington Post.

  • John Mahoney, a D.C.-based lawyer, told the Post that the guidance "does mark the beginning of a trend in the federal sector of moving toward a less strict standard vis-a-vis marijuana use, and I expect that trend to continue,”

The bottom line: "Heads of agencies are expected to continue advising their workforce that legislative changes by some states and the District of Columbia do not alter Federal law or Executive Branch policies," the memo said.

  • "An individual’s disregard of Federal law pertaining to marijuana while employed by the Federal government remains relevant and may lead to disciplinary action."

Go deeper: New Jersey officially legalizes recreational marijuana

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