Crist Unveils Bipartisan Bill Protecting Veterans' Treatment Options, Employment Opportunities

Today, Congressman Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) announced the introduction of the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act (H.R.6589) with Congressman Drew Ferguson (R-GA) to protect veterans' treatment options and federal employment opportunities (bill details below). A recent American Legion poll found broad support for cannabis treatment among veterans and caregivers as well as that one in five veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition. 

Crist made the announcement at a local roundtable discussion with veterans and cannabis industry representatives focused on the state of medical marijuana in Florida and veterans' cannabis use held at the Surterra Wellness Center in Largo, Florida, which has served over 2,000 medical marijuana patients since opening in May. 

"Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans' community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD. At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions," said Rep. Crist. "Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state's cannabis laws. Because our veterans shouldn't have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities."

"American workers are reaping the benefits of our growing economy, but some workers are finding themselves caught between federal and state laws governing medical marijuana use. No one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment," Rep. Ferguson said. "This past spring, Georgia expanded the state’s CBD oil registry, permitting patients with PTSD or chronic pain, many of whom are veterans, to legally use CBD oil with a physician’s authorization. The HB 65 expansion would allow otherwise able-bodied adult Georgians to legally use CBD oil, but current federal law would also allow these employees to be fired from federal jobs in the case of a failed drug test.  That’s why our legislation will help federal workers, one-third of whom are veterans, to stay in their jobs without being forced to forgo legal medical treatment options."

The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act is supported by Americans for Safe Access, Florida for Care, Marijuana Policy Project, National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, and Weed for Warriors Project.

"The time for the federal government to end the practice of arbitrarily discriminating against current and potential workers for marijuana consumption is now," said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “With 46 states having reformed their cannabis laws to be in direct conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, individuals acting in compliance with state law should not be denied the opportunity to serve their country as public servants. We sincerely appreciate the leadership of Congressman Charlie Crist and Congressman Drew Ferguson."

"Congressman Crist has been a strong ally in our fight to allow Florida patients access to medical marijuana and efforts to protect this access from federal interference. Florida for Care is proud to support his common-sense bill to protect employment of Floridians whose well-being depends on continuing medical marijuana treatment," said Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care, and campaign manager of the successful 2016 campaign to approve medical marijuana in Florida. "We applaud Congressman Crist’s leadership on this important issue as we continue working together to protect patients and strengthen the state’s medical marijuana system."

"We appreciate your bipartisan leadership on this issue because it is so essential. Self-care and gainful employment are critical components of life-long success for not just veterans but all Americans. For the federal government to essentially punish citizens, who are under the protection of their state laws, for exercising their right to care for themselves is an affront to personal liberty. Thank you for your continuing work, and we look forward to supporting this bill and future efforts addressing flaws and discrepancies in federal law," Veterans Cannabis Coalition Founder Eric Goepel and Co-Founder Bill Ferguson wrote in support of H.R. 6589.

"Responsible cannabis consumers should have the same employment opportunities as alcohol consumers, and federal employees should be able to exercise the rights granted by the states in which they live and serve," said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. "The Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act is a necessary and commonsense response to the increasing acceptance of cannabis as an objectively safer legal adult product."

"The Federal Government is not only one of the largest employers in our country, but it is by and large the biggest employer of America's Veterans. Veterans and other federal employees who reside in states where medical cannabis is legal should not be discriminated against solely because they go to work everyday in a federal office building. The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act helps alleviate this conflict by creating responsible employment and allowing our Veterans (and other federal employees) get access to the treatments they need," said David Mangone, Esq., Director of Government Affairs, Americans for Safe Access.

H.R. 6589 removes the state-sponsored discrimination disabled veterans experience in the federal workforce when exercising their freedom to choose cannabis over pharmaceuticals like Oxycontin. Increasing veterans’ freedom while lowering their risks and allowing them a pathway to employment should be something we all can get behind," said Sean Kiernan, CEO of the Weed for Warriors Project. "Disabled veterans finally have movement on one of the most pressing issues of our generation. H.R. 6589 is the most significant attempt I have seen in Washington, D.C. to blunt the worsening suicide and overdose crisis.  Medical marijuana means life to so many. These veterans fought for our country – they should have the freedom to choose cannabis because their family's pursuit of happiness literally depends on it."

"Workers shouldn't be fired for consuming marijuana in compliance with state laws when they're off the clock," said Marijuana Policy Project’s Director of Federal Policies, Don Murphy. "We thank Reps. Crist and Ferguson for their leadership on this issue, protecting our veterans and others in the federal workforce."


U.S.Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Drew Ferguson (R-GA)

Supported by: Americans for Safe Access, Florida for Care, Marijuana Policy Project, National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, Veterans Cannabis Coalition,Weed for Warriors Project

Purpose: To protect federal employment opportunities and treatment options for veterans and other civilian federal agency employees residing in a state or territory where their use of medical marijuana is legal.

Background: Enacted in 1986, the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program made it a condition for employment that all civilian employees at executive branch agencies be prohibited from using federally illegal substances on or off duty. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 31 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, and 46 states have some form of medical marijuana law; however, it remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, federal employees can be denied employment or terminated due to testing positive for marijuana metabolites, even if their use is in compliance with state law. This conflict between state and federal laws limits treatment options and federal employment opportunities, particularly impacting veterans who comprise approximately one-third of the federal workforce and whose medical cannabis use to treat chronic pain and PTSD has been found to be double the rate of the general public. A recent American Legion poll found that one in five veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition.

Bill Overview:

● The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act prohibits marijuana metabolite testing from being used as the sole factor to deny or terminate federal employment for civilian positions at executive branch agencies if the individual is in compliance with the marijuana laws in their state of residence.

● The bill only extends to an individual’s past, private use of cannabis, and does not prohibit probable cause testing if an individual is believed to be impaired at work.

● The bill does not apply to individuals occupying or seeking a position requiring a top-secret clearance.

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