06/25/2014 07:31 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2014

USDA Tells Employees It Will Still Drug-Test For Weed, Even In States Where It's Legal

Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who live in states where recreational or medical marijuana has been legalized, be warned. Your employer does not want you smoking pot.

A recent memo from USDA to its more than 100,000 employees makes clear that existing drug-testing policies haven't changed, even in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational use. The memo was issued in late-May and obtained by marijuana policy reform group NORML, which released it to the public on Wednesday.

"Use of marijuana for 'recreational' purposes is not authorized under federal law nor the Department's Drug Free Workplace Program policies ... and the USDA Plan for a Drug Free Workplace," the memo reads. "Accordingly, USDA testing procedures remain in full force and effect."

The USDA did not immediately return messages about workplace drug-testing.

The memo was a response to inquiries about the agency's policy regarding recreational marijuana use by employees in Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012.

It should come as no surprise that the USDA would enforce a straightforward view of marijuana for employees, given that it is a federal agency and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Drug Enforcement Administration ranks cannabis among the "most dangerous" drugs, alongside heroin and LSD, with "no currently accepted medical use."

Meanwhile, 22 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, with New York state poised to be the 23rd. About a dozen other states are considering legalization of marijuana in some form over the next several years.

Under the USDA Drug Free Workplace Program, the agency tests employees for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP.

USDA employees who test positive for marijuana will face disciplinary action that may include a written reprimand, suspension without pay, rehabilitation, or termination, according to the agency.

The USDA memo said it's not just recreational marijuana users who face discipline if they fail a drug test. State-legal medical marijuana patients also are at risk under guidance the USDA said all federal agencies received from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"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," the memo reads. "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."



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