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Revised Federal Workplace Drug Testing Guidelines

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has formally revised federal workplace drug testing guidelines to clarify that using medical marijuana under a doctor’s recommendation in a legal state is not a valid excuse for a positive THC test.  In a pair of notices set to be published in the Federal Register, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that it had amended guidance of saliva and urine testing to include the cannabis policy clarification, despite receiving comments opposing the proposal after they were first announced last year.   The agency did make one change to its initial plan, however. The updated language now notes that passive exposure to or unintentional ingestion any illegal drug—and not just cannabis—does not excuse a positive test for the purposes of federal employment.

While it is already the case that participating in a state medical cannabis program doesn’t shield federal workers from being fired over marijuana use, the newly adopted language further clarifies the federal government’s ongoing prohibitionist stance.

In the new notices, SAMHSA acknowledged that it received a number of comments urging reconsideration of the marijuana testing policy, with many taking the opportunity to call for federal cannabis legalization, but it said the current law justifies the revised guidance.

HHS, which is the umbrella agency that SAMHSA falls under, recently recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) move marijuana from Schedule I to the less strict Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Here’s the updated language for Sections 13.5(c)(2) and 13.5(d)(2) of the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs: 

(i) Passive exposure to a drug (e.g., exposure to marijuana smoke) is not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test result.

(ii) Ingestion of food products containing a drug (e.g., products containing marijuana, poppy seeds containing codeine and/or morphine) is not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive urine drug test result.

(iii) A physician’s authorization or medical recommendation for a Schedule 1 controlled substance is not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test result.