USDA Performs Drug Tests for Recreational and Medical Marijuana, Even in States Where It’s Legal

Although the number of states that are legalizing marijuana is increasing, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is sticking to their “Drug-Free Workplace” Program. In a memo to over 100,000 employees, the USDA stated that while some may be permitted by state law to use marijuana for recreational purposes, it “is not authorized under Federal law nor the Department’s Drug-Free Workplace program.”

Under this program, the USDA may conduct drug tests randomly, after an accident / unsafe practice, or if they are under reasonable suspicion that a worker is using drugs. These tests check for substances identified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule I or II. Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine, Ritalin, and methadone, are categorized as substances with accepted medical use but have the potential for abuse. Conversely, Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use and boast an even greater abuse potential than Schedule II. These drugs include marijuana, heroin, and LSD. The Drug-Free Workplace program has conducted Schedule I and II drug tests since 1988 and shows no sign of adjusting to recent marijuana legalization laws.

The USDA memo reminds workers that everyone who tests positive for marijuana, no matter the state, will be disciplined – including those who use medical marijuana. The memo references Medical Review Officer Manual, stating, “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.” This puts those using medical marijuana under the same jurisdiction as recreational users.

While that may seem harsh, it should be noted that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Therefore, the USDA, as a federal agency, must maintain a marijuana-free policy. Additionally, working under the influence of marijuana can potentially threaten the safety, health, and security of other USDA workers and the American public.

However, an article on the subject does note that federal policy might be in for a change. The Food and Drug Administration is performing a study on marijuana’s safety and medicinal effects. Should the Administration downgrade marijuana from its Schedule I status, the USDA’s strict stance on the drug may change


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California Proposes Bill to Implement Random Drug Tests on Doctors

Nearly one in five doctors develops a substance abuse problem at some point in their career, and one in ten currently working have a drug or alcohol addiction.

Consider the case of neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch. After severely damaging the nerves of one patient and paralyzing another, the Texas hospital where he worked suspended him for one month. In his first surgery post-suspension, he severed a woman’s vertebral artery, causing her to bleed to death. While accidents are not uncommon in a surgical setting, Duntsch’s drug and alcohol addiction may have exacerbated the severity and frequency of these tragic malpractices.

Duntsch had been described as disastrous and allegedly would drink on the job — stashing vodka under his desk and reportedly taking LSD and Cocaine prior to surgeries. Despite these allegations, Duntsch never lost his license. In fact, when he left the one hospital, he was given a clean record. After being hired at a new hospital, Duntsch proceeded to botch two operations so badly, one woman ended up brain dead and another partially paralyzed. At this hospital, he was fired after one week. After 12 lawsuits from patients injured or paralyzed, and two deaths, Duntsch was never convicted of a crime.

Doctors like Duntsch are the reason California legislatures are pushing to implement random drug tests for doctors with hospital privileges and drug tests immediately following any major medical mistakes such as preventable deaths.

Under federal law, airline pilots and school bus drivers need to comply with random drug tests. These tests are performed to assure pilots and drivers can be responsible for the lives of others. This new bill would ensure that doctors would be held to that same level of accountability. Had random drug testing been implemented in the hospitals where Duntsch worked, negligent behavior could have been prevented.





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You Ask, We Answer

First Contact HR staff answers common questions we get on background checks, drug testing and other HR industry practices. Got a question? Ask us at

Question #6: How long do drugs stay in an individual’s system?

Drugs do not typically remain in the body for very long. Often no more than 24 – 72 hours, depending on the frequency of use and the individual’s body functions. Marijuana is the exception, staying sometimes from several days to several weeks, again depending on the circumstances. However, through hair analysis, drugs are detectable up to 90 days after drug use.

For more questions and answers, visit and just Ask!

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