Federal marijuana policy shifts may impact employment regulations

In a recent address, President Biden announced the start of a shift in federal policy toward marijuana and its users.

On Oct. 6, Biden announced his plan to pardon all federal charges of marijuana possession from before 2021 and asked state legislators to review charges of this nature in their states. He also announced a potential reclassification of marijuana to a Schedule II drug.

Though Biden’s direct power to order a reclassification is limited to asking the attorney general to initiate a review, marijuana’s potential federal reclassification could affect the employment process for people who hold medical marijuana cards or use marijuana recreationally in Colorado.

Coloradosprings.gov says, “This language mirrors the Colorado Constitutional provision allowing medical marijuana that states: ‘Nothing in this section shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.’”

Many employers require drug tests during the application process as well, and marijuana’s legal status in Colorado also cannot tell them to stop testing. Since marijuana is still illegal federally, users can be disqualified for federal employment based on their recreational or medical use.

However, any change in marijuana’s federal scheduling could take a few years to go into effect. Marijuana currently resides as a Schedule I drug, which according to the Department of Justice website means it has “no currently accepted medical use in the United States…and a high potential for abuse.” Other drugs in Schedule I include ecstasy and heroin.

UCCS political science professor Emilia Carvalho says that changing marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug will give scientists more opportunities to research the health properties and qualities of the drug without as many federal restrictions.

“The problem is all drugs classified as Schedule I, they can’t be sold, of course, but more importantly, we can’t research a lot about them. They are so restricted that even to do research they are not easily available,” she said.

Biden said that the federal pardon would address people with prior marijuana possession charges who may have been denied employment or other opportunities.

Carvalho said pardoning charges of simple marijuana possession would impact around 6,500 people currently serving sentences but not other criminal charges.

“We do not have anyone in the federal prison system that committed only that crime. They committed something and they had marijuana with them,” Carvalho said.

Anyone seeking a career who is concerned about job availability can use websites like Indeed to make job searching less challenging. Potential applicants can search for marijuana-friendly jobs for all levels of seniority with those platforms.

Those interested can read the official White House statement from Oct. 6 for more information on the updates to marijuana legislation.

Photo caption: Political science professor Emilia Carvalho. Photo by Kira Thorne.