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Marijuana Laws Haven’t Blazed Any Trails on Capitol Hill, Yet

None for you, Congressional staff. Marijuana is still off limits. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo).
None for you, Congressional staff. Marijuana is still off limits. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Marijuana may be legal in D.C., but it’s still illegal on Capitol Hill.  

The Office of Personnel Management recently issued updated guidance  to the 4.1 million federal employees and military personnel in its purview: Even if marijuana use is legal in D.C. and 23 states, the U.S. government still considers possession or use of the substance to be illegal.  

The catch? The memo was directed to the heads of executive agencies and for executive branch employees. Congressional staff and related agencies, including the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol office, are not explicitly included. Decisions on marijuana usage for staff are up to the individual offices.  

Congress has long maintained its own workplace regulations and governance of its employees, leading to widely varying workplace policies, including maternity and paternity leave and student loan repayment . But in the absence of a specific rule on marijuana usage for congressional employees, Congress may be chartering a new course.  

A spokesperson from the Office of Compliance, which enforces specified workplace laws on all legislative branch properties, said there has been no official guidance from Congress on this issue so far, as it pertains to staff. Without any overarching rules to apply to all congressional staff, decisions on staffer marijuana use would be up to the individual member offices.  

A spokeswoman for the office of the House Chief Administrative Officer declined to comment on the issue. A Senate staffer with knowledge of the rules said the responsibility rests with each employing office on how infractions of drug laws are handled administratively.  

Capitol Hill and all federal workplaces are to be drug-free, stemming from a 1986 executive order from President Ronald Reagan that applies to medicinal, as well as recreational use of marijuana. This drug-free office place has not changed, and Capitol Police have made it clear that laws passed by the D.C. Council cannot alter federal law or decriminalize the possession, use or distribution of marijuana for federal law enforcement purposes.  

“Despite the implementation of the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (MPDAA), the possession, use, or distribution of marijuana within the U.S. Capitol Police’s jurisdiction may result in arrest and criminal prosecution pursuant to federal drug laws,” said Lt. Kimberly Schneider, the public information officer for the Capitol Police, in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call.  

True to their word, the Capitol Police continue to arrest people on the Capitol grounds for marijuana-related offenses. As recently as May 21, police discovered drug paraphernalia and a substance that “tested positive for marijuana” during an interview at the Independence Avenue cutout of the Library of Congress Madison Building. The person was arrested on misdemeanor possession charges, according to a police report.  

As courts begin to weigh in on the issue, Congressional staffers may want to err on the side of caution, even absent any specific rules or guidance. This week, in a 6-0 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that employers’ drug policies trump Colorado’s medical marijuana law and businesses can fire employees for the use of legal medical marijuana — even when used while off-duty.  

Hannah Hess contributed to this report.
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