In a memo obtained by NORML, released in late May, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified their drug policy in light of the growing number of states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.
In response to inquiries regarding the department’s policy for employees in states that approved recreational or medical use of marijuana, the USDA strongly reaffirmed that their drug testing policies concerning marijuana are still very much in effect, regardless of state law changes.
The memo states that, “use of Marijuana for ‘recreational’ purposes is not authorized under Federal law nor the Department’s Drug Free Workplace Program policies.” It then elaborates that, “accordingly, USDA testing procedures remain in full force and effect.”
This policy is largely still being enforced due to marijuana’s current status as a Schedule I drug at the federal level. The USDA described their current ongoing policy by stating that “USDA agencies test for the following class of drugs and their metabolites: (a) Marijuana, Opiate (Codeine/Morphine, Morphine, 6-Acetylmorphine) and PCP; and (b) Cocaine, Amphetamines (AMP/MAMP, Methamphetamine, MDMA). These drugs are listed in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)…as Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, respectively. Schedule I drugs are substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are considered the most dangerous of all the drug schedules and invite potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
Citing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Medical Review Officer Manual for Federal Agency Workplace Testing Programs, the USDA also made clear this policy applies equally whether marijuana is being used for recreational use or medical purposes:
“State initiatives and laws, which make available to an individual a variety of illicit drugs by a physician’s prescription or recommendation, do not make the use of these illicit drugs permissible under the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program. These State initiatives and laws are inconsistent with Federal law and put the safety, health, and security of Federal works and the American public at risk. The use of any substance included in Schedule I of the CSA, whether for non-medical or ostensible medical purposes, is considered a violation of Federal law and the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program.”
“The USDA’s stance on testing employees for marijuana use, regardless of the laws of the state in which they live, is unfortunate,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Patients will be denied effective medicine and individuals will be denied civil liberties being given to their fellow state citizens. This situation highlights the fact that the existing, inherent conflict between state laws seeking to legalize and regulate cannabis for recreational or medical purposes and federal policy, which classifies the substance as illicit, are ultimately untenable. To resolve this conflict there must be a change in marijuana’s federal classification. Without such a change, we will consistently have a lack of clarity and ongoing conflict between public sentiment, state law, and federal policy.”
You can read the full USDA memo here.
Last week, state Senator from Montgomery County Daylin Leach announced his intentions to file legislation that would legalize the adult use of marijuana, in a way similar to the laws recently approved in Colorado and Washington.
“I acknowledge that it may take a while, but like same-sex marriage,” stated Sen. Leach, “this will inevitably happen. Demographics and exposure will in time defeat irrational fears, old wives tales and bad science. This bill furthers the discussion, which hastens the day.”
This legislation, if approved, would help halt the arrest of thousands of Pennsylvanians annually. Since 2006, 24,685 arrests were made for just marijuana possession at a cost of over 300 million dollars to the state’s taxpayers.
“It is time for Pennsylvania to be a leader in jettisoning this modern-day prohibition, and ending a policy that has been so destructive, costly, and anti-scientific,” Sen. Leach declared.
Pennsylvania has long been considered a bellwether state, so to see the issue at least being entertained in the state legislature can only be a positive sign of things to come. Let’s hope other elected officials in Pennsylvania join with state Senator Leach to support these sensible reforms.
If NORML’s Take Action Center is anything to go by, the citizens of the Keystone State want it. In just the first 24 hours of going live, Pennsylvanians sent over 900 emails and letters to their elected officials urging them to support this legislation.
If you live in Pennsylvania and want to join in the call for marijuana legalization, simply click here and you can easily send a prewritten email or letter to your elected officials telling them it is time to support legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana, not criminalize it.
PENNSYLVANIANS: Click here to contact your representatives in favor of this bill today!
Don’t live in Pennsylvania? There is already marijuana reform legislation filed in ten other states, with many more sure to follow in the coming days. Be sure to keep checking NORML’s Take Action Center to see if your state is one of them and to contact your officials!
Together, we can NORMLIZE CONGRESS. Together, we will legalize marijuana.
In October of 2011, the White House issued an official response to a petition NORML submitted via their We the People outreach program on the topic of marijuana legalization. Despite being one of the most popular petitions at the site’s launch, the answer we received was far from satisfactory. Penned by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, the response featured most of the typical government talking points. He stated that marijuana is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment and that its use is a concern to public health. “We also recognize,” Gil wrote, “that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”
Well, just over a year later, the White House has responded again to a petition to deschedule marijuana and legalize it. The tone this time is markedly different, despite being penned by the same man.
Addressing the Legalization of Marijuana
By Gil Kerlikowske
Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.
At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.
Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.
…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.
When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.
Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
No tirade about protecting our children. No alarmist claims about sky rocketing marijuana potency and devastating addiction potential. Just a few short paragraphs stating we are “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana” and deferring to an interview with the President where he stated arresting marijuana users wasn’t a priority and that the laws were still being reviewed. While far from embracing an end to marijuana prohibition, the simple fact that America’s Drug Czar had the opportunity to spout more anti-marijuana rhetoric and instead declined (while giving credence to the issue by stating it is a serious national conversation) it’s at the very least incredibly refreshing, if not a bit aberrational. We can only hope that when the administration finishes “reviewing” the laws just approved by resounding margins in Washington and Colorado, they choose to stand with the American people and place themselves on the right side of history.
“We the People” are already there.
Mother’s Day: How the Drug War Hurts Families
NORML Women’s Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and other Reform Organizations Team Up for: “Cops & Moms Week of Action”
Washington DC – Mothers from around the country will join with law enforcement and students at the National Press Club on May 2nd in honor of Mother’s Day. The press conference will launch a new coalition of national organizations that will represent mothers, police and students that seek to finally end the disastrous drug war. The NORML Women’s Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Student for Sensible Drug Policy and others will share powerful stories of losing loved ones to the criminal justice system, and the social repercussions of prohibition. The coalition will highlight a series of activities around the country timed to Mother’s Day.
Sabrina Fendrick, Coordinator for the NORML Women’s Alliance gave the following statement:
“‘Mother’s Day’ was derived out of an intensely political effort to organize women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line against the Civil War. The reason mothers were made the vehicle was because they were the ones whose children were dying in that war. Women were also largely responsible for ending alcohol prohibition. This is more than just a ‘greeting-card holiday,’ this is the beginning of an institutional change in our society. The government’s war on drugs is unacceptable. For our children’s sake, the concerned mothers of the world are being called on to demand the implementation of a rational, responsible, reality-based drug and marijuana policy.”
Leaders of the campaign who will be speaking at the press conference include former Maryland narcotics cop and Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Neill Franklin; Vice-Chair of the NORML Women’s Alliance and proud mother, Diane Fornbacher; Aaron Houston, Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Kathie Kane-Willis a Chicago social worker whose son died from an overdose two years ago; Joy Strickland, CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence, Nina Graves (Delaware), a mother and former assistant chief of police and others. Moms United to End the Drug War will also be unveiling a “Moms Bill of Rights.”
What: Mother’s Day press conference announcing coalition between moms, cops and students against the war on drugs. Followed by a nationwide “Cops & Moms Week of Action”.
When: May 2, 2012 at 10 a.m.
Where: National Press Club – Washington, D.C.
Who: NORML Women’s Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Moms United to End the Drug War, and the Drug Policy Alliance.
[Fact: Drugs are pervasive in our society and, one way or another, adolescents will be exposed to mind-altering substances.]
It is an unmistakable reality that a significant number of high school students will try marijuana. According to the recent 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey, nearly 40 percent of all high school seniors admit to having smoked marijuana in the past year – a percentage that has held relatively stable since the study’s inception over 35 years ago.
Some want to use this fact as a justification to deny any opportunity to rationally discuss marijuana, its use, and its risks with children in an open and honest manner. They think that saying anything about marijuana other than encouraging its total abstinence is condoning its use. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
When society teaches sex education, are we suggesting that all the teenagers go out and engage in sexual intercourse? No. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that the best way to reduce the negative effects associated with sex (unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, etc) is through honest, objective information that allow people to understand their options and provides them with the tools they need to make informed decisions.
When we talk to teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving, are we condoning alcohol use among minors? No, of course not. It is, however, a reality that many adolescents will a) likely consume alcohol as seniors in high school and b) have access to a car. Yes, we encourage students not to drink. But, we urge them specifically not to drink and drive.
We can all agree that teens should not smoke pot, or be using any mind-altering substances. Those are important, developmental years. Still, teens should be educated regarding how smoking marijuana can affect their body’s development specifically, how to reduce any harms associated with its use, and to distinguish between use and abuse. There should be honest, truthful drug education.
As Kristen Gwynne states in her AlterNet article, “Give young people accurate information, and they will use it to make better decisions that result in less harm to themselves, because teens, like everybody else, do not actually want to get hurt or become addicts.”
She goes on to say, “Giving students honest information about drugs [will]…increase the odds that they will use drugs safely, and reduce the likelihood of experiencing the [relative] harms associated with [it].”
By contrast, the Drug Czar and federal law advocates for complete prohibition, limited information explaining the real effects of marijuana and condemning any opportunity, as Gwynne states, to provide “education that helps teens understand their health options, and ways of reducing the harm of drugs.” When it comes to our children, like everything else we teach in school for development and behavioral growth, drug education should be based in reality, not a denial of it.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If a state expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”