Widened legalization—through actions by state government or through ballot initiatives, as occurred in several states earlier this month—of medicinal and/or recreational possession and use of small amounts of marijuana do not impact federal workplace policies regarding marijuana.

Those policies were laid out in 2015 guidance from OPM following similar loosening of laws by other states. That guidance, which has not been changed, stresses that such changes in state law “do not alter federal law, existing suitability criteria, or Executive Branch policies regarding marijuana. An individual’s disregard of federal law pertaining to marijuana remains adjudicatively relevant to suitability determinations and relevant for disciplinary actions.”


For federal law purposes, it said, marijuana is characterized as a controlled substance and “knowing or intentional marijuana possession is illegal, even if an individual has no intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana. In addition, Executive Order 12564, Drug-Free Federal Workplace, mandates that (a) federal employees are required to refrain from the use of illegal drugs; (b) the use of illegal drugs by federal employees, whether on or off duty, is contrary to the efficiency of the service; and (c) persons who use illegal drugs are not suitable for federal employment.”

Involvement with marijuana “may be considered when agencies make suitability determinations” because it “can raise questions about an individual’s reliability, judgment, and trustworthiness or ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules, and regulations, thus indicating his or her employment might not promote the efficiency or protect the integrity of the service.”

The OPM memo followed a similar warning the previous year from the Director of National Intelligence regarding eligibility to get or retain security clearances, which are necessary to hold many federal jobs.

OPM added that the executive order on a drug-free workplace states that “discipline is not required for employees who voluntarily seek counseling or rehabilitation and thereafter refrain from using illegal drugs.” And in suitability determinations, “the individual’s conduct must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”