Murfreesboro City employee resigns after CBD use triggers failed drug test
The Murfreesboro-native artist was employed by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department for more than two years until an unexpected test result led to her resignation.
“I felt very lucky to work in the arts, in arts administration,” Hamric said. “It’s important; I really enjoy being able to spread my love for art to others, teaching kids about art and doing community projects. I loved doing it with the city, where we could focus less on profit and were able to offer more affordable options to people, making art really accessible to as many people as possible.”
Hamric suffers from anxiety and said prescription medications had become too expensive and caused her to suffer side effects that were taking a toll on her life.
In search of an alternative, she researched and turned to products containing CBD, a substance derived from the hemp plant that is legal in Tennessee.
Even though CBD products are legal, Hamric learned the hard way that the trace amount of THC in the CBD capsules she was taking could show up on a drug screen.
Murfreesboro, federal governments have zero-tolerance policies
The city, according to spokesperson Mike Browning, is a certified Tennessee Drug-Free Workplace, which comes with certain requirements for employees.
Under the regulations to be a Drug-Free Workplace, the city follows the U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines for drug and alcohol testing, including screening for marijuana.
“Under these DOT regulations, if an employee tests beyond the federally established limit for marijuana, it is deemed a failed drug test,” Browning said in an email. “If the use of the CBD oil causes the individual to test at or beyond the cut-off levels for marijuana established by the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, it will be a failed drug test.”
Although even full-THC medical marijuana is legal in some states, the DOT regulations for that certification level do not include a medical marijuana exemption, Browning said.
“When an employee fails a test, they receive a call from a licensed and certified Medical Review Officer (MRO) who informs them on what drugs and ranges which they failed,” he explained in the email. “The employee has the opportunity to respond with an explanation of what prescriptions they are taking.”
At the U.S. Department of Energy facilities and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, employees found to be using CBD could be treated like users of heroin or LSD.
Federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Though hemp-derived CBD oil has minimal amounts of the high-producing chemical THC, standard drug tests can’t tell the difference between hemp products and marijuana.
The policy applies to direct federal employees and contractors, a total of nearly 10,000 people, according to DOE and Y-12 representatives. The rationale stems from a 2015 Office of Personnel Management memo on “marijuana use” — which doesn’t directly address CBD oil — and before that to a presidential executive order dating from 1986, at the height of the War on Drugs.
Steven Wyatt, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration Production Office, recently told USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee that using “CBD oil can result in a positive urine drug screen test.”
“A positive drug test can lead to suspension of a security clearance which restricts access to classified information and facilities,” Wyatt said, declining to provide the number of Y-12 employees that have been caught using CBD oil or the consequences they faced.
Research proved wrong
Hamric said she’d started taking CBD capsules three to four weeks before the test day came up, and she had done extensive research to see if she had anything to worry about.
“I was pretty confident that unless you were taking a large amount of it, that wouldn’t happen,” she said. “I’ve stopped taking it since, it scared me.”
She was being tested as part of the application process for a promotion within the city’s Parks and Recreation department, which operates essentially like applying for a new job, she said.
She was subjected to a normal drug screening — and failed.
Hamric had taken a split sample test, where one half of the sample she provided was tested, the other was stored.
“I paid over a hundred dollars to have the second half of my sample retested, assuming there had to have been a lab error,” she said.
While waiting for those results she was placed on immediate unpaid suspension from the city. When the second round of tests also came back as failed, Hamric was given the choice to resign or be fired, she said.
“Drug testing laws are draconian in nature with respect to cannabidiol medicines,” David Hariston, a Tennessee-based CBD advocate for Safe Access Tennessee said. “There are hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in Tennessee, for example. There is a significant number of patients in Tennessee overall who would greatly benefit from cannabinoid medicines, but they have been blocked by grotesque federal overreach.”
Hairston is registered as an unpaid lobbyist at the state level but says the main goal of the Safe Access local branch is to provide safe legal access to cannabinoid medicine.
Looking to the future
“I don’t have any ill will towards the city whatsoever,” Hamric said. “I don’t know that there was anything they could have done differently, because this was the first time ever happened.”
Hamric said she wants to share her story to raise awareness of the possibility so that CBD users and business can have the opportunity to take a look at policies around the use of the legal products before someone else ends up in her situation.
“We have two kids, we really relied on my income,” she said. “It’s made me hesitant to apply to jobs in my field because I know how I’d look at it.”
Hamric has turned her hand to freelance writing since she left the city in May, including writing a children’s book about her rescue cat, Maeby. A portion of the proceeds from the book supports Rutherford County Cat Rescue.
“Businesses should have the right to expect certain things from their employees,” Hairston said, “They should be able to operate machinery equipment and conduct themselves in a sober fashion, but that should apply to all medicines, including cannabinoid ones.”
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