Ask A Stoner: I Work In D.C., Can I Get Fired For Using Weed?

Ever thought about rolling one up before punching in to work? Or maybe you’ve snuck in a few puffs of your vape pen before heading back from your lunch break.

However innocent this may seem to you, your employer might have a different opinion. And whether your employer tolerates cannabis use depends largely on where you live and who you work for.

In the District of Columbia, most city employees can’t be penalized for pot use as long as it’s off the clock. That’s thanks to a 2019 order by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser that authorized city employees to use cannabis outside of work hours, whether for medical or recreational purposes.

But there are limits to that freedom. D.C. government employees still can’t consume or possess pot during work hours, and they can’t report to work while high.

Here’s another exception: D.C. employees in “safety-sensitive” positions are strictly prohibited from using cannabis, whether on or off the job. Those positions include jobs that require working with children, driving a vehicle, operating heavy machinery, or handling a gun.

Safety-sensitive employees can essentially be asked to take a random drug test at any time, according to the D.C. Department of Human Relations. For cannabis, the first positive test will lead to a five day suspension without pay, and a second offense will usually result in termination, though some agencies will choose to demote or reassign an employee. For the full rules, check the District’s Electronic Personnel Manual.

But what about the more than 360,000 federal government workers who live in the D.C. region? Can they use cannabis off the clock?

The short answer is no.

Weed is still illegal at the federal level, so federal government employees are generally forbidden from consuming it in any shape or form. The Drug-Free Federal Workplace executive order of 1986 established that federal employees must refrain from using illegal drugs on or off-duty, or risk being terminated.

That being said, the federal government’s outlook on cannabis is starting to evolve. In a memo published earlier this year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that federal agencies should start considering cannabis violations on a case-by-case basis instead of enforcing a blanket ban on the drug.

The memo specifies that “past marijuana use, including recently discontinued marijuana use, should be viewed differently from ongoing marijuana use.” Part of the point of OPM’s memo was to recognize the contradictions that have ensued from dozens of states legalizing cannabis use while the plant remains federally prohibited.

But while the memo extends an olive branch to federal employees who use cannabis, it stops short of excusing them, reminding government agencies that “an individual’s disregard of Federal law pertaining to marijuana while employed by the Federal government remains relevant and may lead to disciplinary action.”

So what if you work in the private sector?

D.C. doesn’t provide any protections for cannabis users who work at private companies. Private companies in the District can enforce strict policies that prohibit cannabis use, and can legally fire or penalize an employee for being high on the job or failing a drug test.

To be clear, that doesn’t guarantee they will.

Data from Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest drug-testing labs in the country, shows that more and more drug tests conducted on behalf of employers are coming back positive for weed. Out of 7 million tests performed by Quest in 2020, about 2.7% came back positive for weed, compared to just 2% in 2016.

But private employers across the country are increasingly choosing to look the other way when it comes to weed. In June, e-commerce behemoth Amazon announced it would no longer test job applicants for weed, though it would keep performing random drug screenings for on-the-job workers.

Experts on employment law say the best way to ensure you’re not breaking your company’s cannabis policy is to ask about it. Some companies allow employees to submit anonymous questions and feedback to their Human Relations department, so go ahead and fire away.


Ask A Stoner is a weekly column that answers our readers’ most burning questions on the ever-shifting, oft-misunderstood world of cannabis in the D.C. region. You can submit your questions using this Google Form, or by messaging Jason, our stoner-in-residence, on Twitter.

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