Biden's equity pledge fall short with medical cannabis hiring

Biden's equity pledge fall short with medical cannabis hiring
© Getty Images

When then-presidential candidate Joe Biden released his approach to federal cannabis policy in May of 2020, it was met with a feeling of excitement from medical cannabis patients, caregivers, medical professionals and researchers who have waited far too long for cannabis policy reform to change. President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE’s proposal expressed support for states to continue organizing cannabis policy reform and pledged to forge a path forward on federally sanctioned research of medical cannabis applications to human health.

However, roughly 60 days into this administration, we have now observed Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE, who had previously authored legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely, reportedly backing away from that approach. We have also witnessed Biden administration nominees backpedal on previous support positions for reform legislation like the MORE Act and Biden opting against allowing staffers who have used cannabis in the past to serve in the White House.

If the new administration does not intend to hire qualified individuals simply based on past cannabis use, how will it organize functional policy to serve the millions of patients across this country currently relying on cannabis to treat or mitigate health symptoms and conditions ranging from anxiety and chronic pain to PTSD and cancer? These people are our veterans, seniors, children, moms and dads, brothers, sisters and our colleagues who use a form of medicine that is considered safe and legal in 36 states, but that the federal government still classifies in the same category as heroin.


While domestic research has been sharply restricted by the federal prohibition on cannabis, a 2009 review of clinical studies conducted over a 38-year period, found that “nearly all of the 33 published controlled clinical trials conducted in the United States have shown significant and measurable benefits in subjects receiving the treatment.” Several states with medical cannabis programs have also funded academic research into cannabis health applications to further advance this important work and offer effective treatment to millions of patients who are desperate for federal health and enforcement policy to catch up.

Rather than regress into prohibitionist policies that deprive patients of medicine they need to survive and then deny those patients employment opportunities, the Biden-Harris administration must lead on medical cannabis, organizing a comprehensive approach that acknowledges the hard work that has been done by states, researchers, medical professionals and patients. Specifically, the new administration should follow the lead of other nations who are reforming their cannabis laws and regulating cannabis from a central agency, such as an Office of Medicinal Cannabis.

Establishing such a temporary or permanent federal agency responsible for leading and coordinating regulatory responsibilities associated with federal cannabis policy will be critical to realigning regulatory responsibilities so that competing department and agency agendas do not stifle advancement of critical medical cannabis research. Among Office of Medicinal Cannabis responsibilities would be working with the United States Office of Personnel Management to ensure that federal hiring laws catch up with the times relative to the work of a super-majority of states on medical cannabis.

If this Congress or this administration wants smart, capable and dedicated staff to carry forward the important work of the American people, it must acknowledge that many of these potential employees and contractors hail from one of the states with medical cannabis laws firmly in place. Qualified cannabis patients applying for federal work are like any other applicant relying on some form of federally-sanctioned medicine to treat their health conditions, with the only exception being that this administration is choosing to discriminate against them in hiring. How can an administration so focused on removing systemic equity fail so monumentally in extending employment equity to qualified medical cannabis patients?

It is time for this administration to take a meaningful, comprehensive approach to cannabis as a medicine and end outdated hiring policies that affect the over 4.4 million current medical cannabis patients. 

More than a week after Americans moved forward from the tradition of setting our clocks an hour ahead for daylight savings, it is time for Biden, Harris and Acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan to spring forward and catch up with 44 countries that have legalized medical cannabis.

Debbie Churgai is the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a national nonprofit medical cannabis membership organization of patients, caregivers, medical professionals, researchers and supporters.