Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The federal ban on possession and use of cannabis has far reaching effects, from blocking cannabis businesses from financial services to keeping truckers off the road during a supply chain crisis. Now, it’s impacting the financial decisions of federal workers.
In a memo sent in June to employees, an Environmental Protection Agency official reminded employees that “Executive Order 12564” requires federal employees “to refrain from using illegal drugs on or off duty.” Under current law, this includes cannabis, even if people work in a state where cannabis is legal.
Acting Assistant Administrator Kimberly Y. Patrick authored the memo, making it clear that actions taken by state officials to decriminalize or legalize cannabis or CBD products “do not alter Federal law or Executive Branch policies regarding a drug-free workplace. Despite changes in state laws and social norms, the use of marijuana is illegal under Federal law, even when obtained through prescription or when used in a jurisdiction where such use is permitted.”
But the memo goes beyond just the personal use of cannabis.
A negative suitability determination is possible
Understanding the memo requires learning a few acronyms and parsing bureaucratic language.
First, the memo states that EPA is using guidance from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the facts presented in the memo. So, this apparently applies not just to the EPA, but every federal agency.
In staying consistent with OPM guidance, the memo states that use of cannabis both on and off duty is “contrary to the efficiency of the federal service.” Employees who violate the law could be subject to disciplinary action or a “negative suitability determination.” That phrase means that agency officials have determined someone is not suitable for federal employment.
Patrick further writes that employees in “designated sensitive positions” – defined as positions where the employee could have a “material adverse effect” on national security – who also invest in stocks or business ventures “pertaining to marijuana growers or retailers” may “negatively impact” their eligibility for access to classified information or to hold a sensitive position.
Indirect investments would not impact employment
The memo also states that those who make indirect investments in a cannabis business (such as investing in a mutual fund that invests in a cannabis business) are not impacted by the rules described in the memo.
The EPA memo is the latest in the ongoing saga surrounding the use of cannabis on the job. Some cities and states have passed laws protecting workers. However, exemptions are made for federal government employees and certain occupations (such as those who operate heavy machinery).
The issue is beginning to pop up in the federal government more frequently. For example, early in his administration, President Joe Biden fired people on staff who used marijuana. More recently, his office said they will ask potential interns about past marijuana use. Also, a congressman recently asked the Department of Transportation to change rules that keep truck drivers off the road for marijuana use, saying it is adding to the current supply chain problem.