USDA Releases Official Workplace Policy on Marijuana, Highlights State and Federal Law Conflict

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director June 25, 2014

    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.

    57 responses to “USDA Releases Official Workplace Policy on Marijuana, Highlights State and Federal Law Conflict”

    1. Galileo Galilei says:

      I’m always amused by this Federal Drug Free Workplace stuff. Diminished productivity they cry! You can’t smoke a joint on Saturday night, but you can spend 10 or 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day hitting up on nicotine. That’s at least 30 minutes a day wasted on consuming a physically addictive carcinogen. It’s perfectly legal, though.

    2. Thomas says:

      Enjoy it while it’s still in Schedule 1 , because once it is rescheduled, you anti-pot warriors will need to find somewhere to stick all those specimine cups. I have an idea where you can stick em. Keep up the good fight, Norml!

    3. bobwv says:

      Where’s Gupta with cancer killers.

    4. NavyDoc says:

      I can’t agree more with Galileo above. I am a navy doctor working at a large clinic. I often have to park near the cigarette smoker’s smoke spot in the back of the parking lot. Often there are 10 or more government healthcare employees sucking down cigs, and then putting them out on the ground cause the tiny bucket they have overflowed and never was emptied… ( Meanwhile I am subjected to random urinalysis). The hypocracy, ignorance and backwardness of it all is mind blowing! The CSA classification of drugs has really no basis in reality and can’t get re-written soon enough.

    5. Demonhype says:

      @Galileo Galilei: What’s funny is that illicit drug use has a marginal effect on the workplace, and drug testing programs actually reduce both productivity AND workplace safety. It reduces productivity by creating a de facto master/slave relationship between the company and its workers and shows the workers that they are not only not valued, but are regarded as company property. It reduces workplace safety by disincentivizing accident reporting, as people often will avoid reporting accidents–and, by extension, safety hazards–for fear of being drug tested, either because they are using or because they simply value their physical rights and do not want to be subjected to submissive urination. Unfortunately, this does serve to artificially improve the safety record, as injured workers will hobble on a broken leg rather than report. Also unfortunately, this is exactly what companies like: not only do they get paid with tax dollars for drug testing their employees (and screening out people with inconvenient health problems illegally), they get to enjoy a better safety record while avoiding making any safety improvements, between the employees not reporting problems to be fixed to begin with.

      So where did this myth of increased safety and productivity come from? Well, the safety myth originated with the “Firestone study”, which was not a study at all but a speech purportedly given at a Firestone conference. The actual speech touched on substance abuse in the workplace, but focused on alcohol abuse with only the smallest aside regarding illicit drugs, but somehow got blown out of proportion by outright lies by the drug testing industry reps to the point where people believe it’s not only a legitimate scientific study but that it focused specifically on illegal drugs without a mention of alcohol.

      Another source was a study where they started drug testing everyone in a safety sensitive company for five years and supposedly saw a decrease in workplace accidents. Take a look at their chart and it seems legit–until you look at all the data and discover that workplace accidents had been steadily decreasing for several years prior to the point of drug testing, and the drug testing program didn’t even make a hiccup in the data. So they did a little statistical sleight-of-hand and only presented the data from the point drug testing began, essentially taking credit for a safety trend for which they were not responsible. Again, lying.

      The myth of productivity improvement came from the “RTI study”, which was at least an actual study, but also suffers from the same BS as the prior study. They entered into the study biased from the start, intending to show the massive problems that drug use has on the workplace, but even then they couldn’t find any significant detriment to the workplace from illicit drug use. So they just took this one, rather spurious, metric they had used and used it to claim millions of dollars of lost productivity from drug use in the workplace. They did a survey of households and compared the annual incomes of households where no one admitted to using MJ to households where at least one family member admitted to using MJ at least once a month. (Already you can see, if you have a brain cell in your head, that there is a major problem since we’re comparing not actual users against non-users but self-reports of use. The National Workrights Insitute has their own study showing that, while companies that drug test have fewer drug users than companies that don’t drug test if you go by self-reporting alone, when you follow it up with some aggressive drug testing you find that over 50% of those “non-users” in the drug testing companies are LYING–and are most often on hard drugs and not on MJ.)

      So they found out, using this rather unreliable metric (for that and many other reasons), they found that households that had at least one person admitting to using MJ made a certain percentage more on average than households where no one claimed to be a user. And they not only decided to use that–the metric of personal income–as a measure of productivity (which is bullshit–I’m being worked infinitely less hard for $14/hr than I ever was making minimum wage, and with infinitely more respect given me), but they multiplied that amount proportional to the general population and claimed that “millions of dollars” were being lost in productivity to drug use in the workplace. And they have never done more studies on that, they have just increased the number from year to year to keep up with inflation, resulting in the “billions and billions of dollars” figure we are given today.

      So, yeah, the claims of drug testing improving workplace safety and productivity are based on outright lies, spurious studies, and unrepresentative data. Which is no surprise, considering the entire drug testing industry is based on the same, and so is the failed Drug War it serves.

      More people need to know about this, too. Too many people believe falsely that drug testing protects them and protects their boss’s profits, even some useful-idiot MJ users who are MJ exceptionalists. They really believe that it at least saves them from the “hard drug users” who are sooo dangerous and they don’t want any damn cokeheads working with them at the office–except for the fact that they’re ALREADY WORKING WITH COKEHEADS, even with the submissive urination–oh, I mean, drug testing–policies being enforced against them, and that won’t change after MJ gets off the list of testable drugs. The fact that drug testing actually increases hard drug use in the workplace is definitive proof that it’s completely useless to catch “cokeheads” or any other such hard drug users, due to the laughably short detection time. If you use MJ and support drug testing, you’re endangering yourself for essentially no benefit at all. In fact, anyone who supports drug testing is endangering themselves for essentially no benefit at all. Is it really worth it to take the risk of false positives (up to 30% of all positive drug tests) and open your bodily privacy to a search and seizure method that has pretty much zero regulation or enforcement and, thus, can be a window into your private medical conditions/treatments/history and provide your employer or potential employer to information they are not entitled to and can use against you, all for no benefit whatsoever? To take that risk, even if you’re not a user of illicit drugs, and still end up working next to the oft-despised “cokeheads”? To piss in a cup in order to “do your part” in fighting the “cokeheads” and keeping them out of the workplace, only to end up working with more “cokeheads” than you ever would without drug testing?

      Like I said, useful idiots all.

      To find out more, you can use this list of links:


      Still trying to find the time to blog again. I think once I get my workout regimen cemented I’ll be able to start a blog schedule. I really do want to promote this conversation about the frauds perpetrated by the drug testing industry.

    6. Demonhype says:

      Oh, yeah, another metric of “lost productivity” is the claim that workers who use MJ use more health care and have more absenteeism than non-users. Which is another elaborate lie, effectively a self-fulfilling prophecy. What drug testing supporters don’t tell you is that that increased absenteeism and higher health care use is padded by drug testing programs. That is, the increased health care use is almost entirely comprised of company-mandated rehab for failing a drug test and that increased absenteeism is entirely comprised of the time they are forced to take off for the aforementioned rehab. When you take out these factors, which are created by the drug testers themselves, you find that MJ users actually use LESS health care services and have LESS absenteeism than non-users.

      Independent studies have also shown MJ users to be MORE productive than non-users. And I speak as a non-user myself.

    7. Demonhype says:

      @Thomas: I hope it will be that easy, but there is still a belief, based on nothing, that drug testing must continue to protect us from the “hard drug” users, despite all evidence showing that it’s entirely useless for cutting down hard drug use in the workplace. But there are still plenty of people who believe this lie, including some useful idiot marijuana exceptionalists. For example, OpenVAPE is drug testing their employees to send a “message” about the “hard drugs” (which is, of course, only going to make sure they have a lot of “hard drug” users in their workforce, ironically enough). Any OpenVAPE customers reading this should seriously consider boycotting OpenVape, and tell them why.

      Russ Belville featured it on his Youtube channel:


      We need to nip this marijuana exceptionalism/pro drug testing BS in the bud in this movement, or things are not going to get much better even with legalization.

    8. Julian says:

      Truly, these piss testing facilities aren’t tough enough. The law isn’t the law until every man and woman in America is passively urinating into submission!
      Ill tell you what we need is to get rid of all these dodgers carrying someone else’s warm piss in their underwear CHEATIN the SYSTEM! What we oughtta do is round up every American and makim drop their chones at Robert Dupont’s house! That,s right! We’ll place a federal airport in front of Robert’s house, sitm in the middle of 12 toilets, a slop-trough for a urinal and let him WATCH EVERYONE PISS! I mean just STARE atcha! Now THAT will put the JUSTICE back in the Justice Department! No one in the U. S. Allowed to urinate unless at Robert Dupont’s home or Federally registered drug-testing facility!
      I believe it is my patriotic duty to piss for my country. If i catch a kidney stone waitin in line, its because i LOVE LADY LIBERTY! Im a PATRIOT, dammit!
      ..Oh say can you pee!

    9. It is the scheduling of the plant in the first place, that makes it legal for the USDA to enforce this policy! If cannabis were classified as what it really is, it never should have had the classification of a drug. Great work NORML! Dan Corse, KZOO-NORML (Sub Chapter of MINORML!) Dir. of Communications.

    10. The feds are going to ride this “Catch 22” situation to the bitter end.