Federal Government Proposes Change on Cannabis Question for Job Applicants

Because of the Schedule I illegal status of cannabis, federal agencies prohibit their employees from using cannabis. But a new proposal from the federal government indicates there may be some changes, at least in how they approach job applicants who use cannabis.

Anything that changes with the federal government must go through many bureaucratic steps. In this case, the first is a notice filed with the Federal Registry that proposes a set of changes to the questions federal hiring managers ask job applicants.

The changes are meant to acknowledge “changing societal norms” toward marijuana, according to the notice. Those changes are evident every day from celebrity endorsements and cannabis enterprises to surveys showing strong support for cannabis legalization among the American people.

Improving Pool of Job Applicants

Federal officials are proposing the changes in part because they “may improve the pool of applicants for federal employee and federal contractor positions.” More workers than ever use marijuana, either for medical reasons or recreationally during their off-work hours.

The change to the cannabis questions is part of the government’s attempt to combine aspects of many different questionnaires into one, called the Personnel Vetting Questionnaire (PVQ). The language in the notice tacitly acknowledges what federal law does not – cannabis is different from other Schedule I illegal drugs.

Under the current rules, government agencies evaluate job applicants who admit to past cannabis on a case-by-case basis. The new rules would alter that.

“Given the legal landscape at the state level regarding use of marijuana, distinguishing between past marijuana use and use of other illegal drugs on the PVQ may improve the pool of applicants for federal employee and federal contractor positions,” the notice states.

Why the Change Is Important

While it might seem like a small change, it’s a step in the right direction for cannabis consumers who sometimes face uncertainty about drug testing for cannabis in the workplace, or even whether it is safe to admit past use. If adopted for use, the PVQ has a “more limited scope of questioning regarding past use of marijuana in comparison to other illegal drugs,” according to the notice. That’s obviously a big deal for those who work for the federal government, which employs more than 2 million people nationwide.

It may also provide an example for the private sector to follow. Currently, employees who legally use cannabis can still not get hired if they admit to past use while applying for a job (although some places are putting laws into place to prevent that from happening). By changing the rules, and acknowledging the reasons why while doing it, federal officials may provide private businesses an example of how to approach past cannabis use by job applicants.

Both governmental and private employers must still deal with the drug testing issue, however. Currently employees face termination if they “fail” a drug test that shows THC in their system. The issue is that currently technology can’t determine current impairment levels in a cannabis user. It can only detect THC, which remains in the urine and the bloodstream long after the person no longer feels high.

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