U.S. Forest Service Reminds Employees That They Are Still Subject to Federal Law

On June 22, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) deputy chief for business operations Tony Dixon published a statement exploring the relationship and impact of cannabis on federal employees.

“Over the last 10 years or so, our views around the use of marijuana have shifted radically,” Dixon stated. “Many states have legalized use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and some have even allowed recreational use in much the same manner as tobacco or alcohol products. But where does that leave the federal government?”

Like other federal agencies, USFS employees are subject to the same federal laws as everyone else. However, he also explained the ongoing problem of federal employees not passing drug tests. “As a result of the confusion around these state-by-state changes, there has been a noticeable uptick in cases of employees failing drug tests,” he said. “Those results have been associated with the legalization of marijuana and have resulted in corrective action, including suspensions and loss of employment.”

Depending on the agency, some people are disqualified from applying if they have consumed cannabis within one year up to five years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) previously required applicants to abstain from cannabis use for up to three years in order to be eligible for a job, although that was changed to one year back in July 2021.

The U.S. Secret Service used to allow applicants 24 or younger to apply for a job if they were cannabis-free for one year, and those 28 and older would need to be cannabis-free for at least five years. However, in May the agency updated its rules to allow applications to be reviewed for those who consume hemp-derived cannabis products within one year prior to the application.

According to Dixon though, cannabis can prevent employees from doing their work. “I value all my co-workers and want to ensure that we all continue to do the work we love in a safe environment,” he added. “I don’t want to see anyone penalized or even lose their jobs for something that could easily be avoided.”

“Many Forest Service employees already work in risky environments in the service of our communities,” he continued. “We want you to be aware of how this choice could have a negative effect on the rest of your lives. So, I wanted to take this time to refresh everyone on regulations and expectations placed upon us as Forest Service employees.”

Dixon addressed CBD as well, warning that some products inaccurately label products which contain trace amounts of THC and could potentially lead to a positive drug test. He also provides information for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s National Helpline, and online resources for treatment for those “struggling with addi[c]tion.”

“Above all, I want to make sure that at the end of the day, no one’s employment is affected or cut short by situations that are within our control,” Dixon concluded. “Please remember that no matter the state, as a federal employee, you are always subject to federal law.”

Although Dixon suggests that federal employees should abstain from cannabis use, and cites substance abuse services if they have trouble doing so, some studies have found evidence that many substances can be used to treat certain forms of addiction. 

The results of a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in August 2022 found that psilocybin can be used to treat alcohol misuse disorder. 

In October 2022, a study published in Substance Use & Misuse stated that four out of five patients featured in the study reported a decrease or reduction in opioid use after using medical cannabis. “The findings suggest that some medical cannabis patients decreased opioid use without harming quality of life or health functioning, soon after the legalization of medical cannabis,” researchers explained.

In March, researchers wrote in an Addiction Neuroscience journal study that CBD helped female rats curb opioid addiction. “The ability of [whole-plant extract] to reduce opioid reward and drug seeking behavior appears quite robust and of great clinical utility,” researchers wrote. 

Another study published in the journal Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics earlier this year in April also found that many chronic pain patients who consumed cannabis for six months decreased their use of opioids. Researchers also found that “…patients prescribed oils or both types of CBMPs experienced reduced anxiety and an improvement in their ability to perform daily activities,” the authors wrote.

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