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Can You Get a Government Job With a Medical Card?

closeup of hand holding a medical marijuana card

You can technically get a government job with a medical marijuana card, but that does not exempt you from facing the workplace consequences of using cannabis.

There is an essential distinction between actively using cannabis (medical or recreationally) and simply having a medical marijuana card.

While simply having a medical marijuana card is a matter of personal medical history and should not affect an individual’s ability to either obtain or retain a government job, actual marijuana use is a more complex matter and may lead to consequences in practice.

Testing positive for THC or its metabolites can jeopardize your job, even if you have a valid MMJ card.

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What To Know About Government Job Drug Testing Policies

One key consideration for federal employees is the Drug-free Workplace Act of 1988, which dictates that federal workplaces — and non-federal workplaces with federal contracts above $100,000 — must implement a clear workplace drug policy, including drug testing.

Marijuana is a controlled substance at the national level, so if you test positive for cannabis, you could face formal reprimands. No federal employer will allow you to consume cannabis at the workplace, even for medical use.

If you used to consume cannabis but no longer do so, you might face more leeway from federal employers, but it is not a sure thing.

In 2021, five Biden administration White House employees were let go due to past marijuana use, but the administration noted that this was out of around 500 White House employees.

Several other White House employees were granted waivers for past use, meaning that they would not face disciplinary action for having used marijuana previously but would be asked to refrain from using cannabis during their term of employment.

Employees would also be subject to drug testing. Even outside the White House, a positive drug test will likely lead to disciplinary matters if you work for the government, even if you have a medical card.

In other words, even if you have a medical marijuana card, you may want to refrain from cannabis use while you work for a federal employer.

Applying for a Government Job With a Medical Card

When working a government job, you should know your employer’s expectations regarding cannabis use.

Before starting a role, however, many prospective employees are forced to walk the same delicate line employers are walking.

The legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in many states conflicts with federal law, leading many to be in the dark about best practices.

While undergoing the application and interview process, you should be honest if asked a direct question. You should also know that some federal agencies may even require a pre-employment drug test, especially for safety-sensitive positions like driving for the Department of Transportation.

If you no longer use cannabis and are not asked about past cannabis use at any point in the hiring process, you are not obligated to admit to past use.

You would be taking a substantial risk by continuing cannabis use once you’ve landed the job  — again, don’t forget about the Drug-free Workplace Act.

However, you don’t need to derail an interview or sabotage your chances by panicking and telling your future employer that you smoked half of a joint during your first year of college.

Can You Get a State Government Job With a Medical Card?

Some states, like California, have passed legislation protecting private employees from being fired or not hired due to recreational cannabis use. However, state government employees face few similar protections, even for those with medical cards in legal states.

Because there are many stark differences between state and federal laws, and also from state to state, it is unclear if any state government employees could receive legal employment protection for having a medical card.

We suggest erring on the side of caution and assuming that federal law trumps state law, even if you live in a state with a medical marijuana program.

The Bottom Line

The federal government considers marijuana a controlled substance. Unfortunately, the laws do not distinguish between recreational and medical marijuana use at this time.

Having a medical card alone should not be enough to cause you to lose your job or be disqualified for consideration for a future role.

In many cases, even past recreational use should not be grounds for disqualification. However, federal workplaces are required to drug test, and if you receive a positive drug test, you could face severe consequences.

Just as having a medical card does not immediately disqualify you from a government position, it also does not provide you with legal protections.

If you are merely asked about your past experiences with cannabis, honesty is best, but you don’t need to offer an answer if nobody is asking a question.

While getting a medical marijuana card has many benefits, you should carefully weigh those benefits against potential ramifications, like being put on probation, being subjected to additional drug testing, or even losing your job.

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