Marijuana, weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane. No matter the name, what we travel nurses want to know is- can we use it? You might have taken an assignment in Alaska and you are traveling from Texas. One state sells marijuana legally and another could put you behind bars. In Texas, possession of even a tiny amount of marijuana can land you in jail. Even having less than 2 ounces could be up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $2,000. And penalties for possessing hash oil can be charged as a felony. Oh, Texas.
So, travel nurses, if you are traveling to Alaska for your 13-week assignment from Texas, can you use marijuana? Are there consequences for a travel nurse using cannabis, even if it’s prescribed or legal in the state?
Travel nurses who use cannabis
It’s easy to think if we live and work in a state where cannabis is fully legal, there’s nothing to worry about. But it’s not even just state and federal laws at play. For us, there are even more players to decide what we can and can not do. There are the boards that oversee regulation, there are state licensure entities, and there are the hospitals that contract us. And each of these players can (and do) have a different outlook, guideline, or consequence for using cannabis.
So let’s say we are traveling from our assignment in Colorado where cannabis use is legal, to a state like Mississippi where it is illegal to use cannabis. Well, for each new assignment we get drug-screened. When we test positive for this drug, even if we used it legally a week ago, there is a high likelihood of not getting the assignment.
And even if you are a working travel nurse in a state where all use is legal, a facility or hospital can choose to enforce their own rules for employees regardless of state and federal laws. So just because you are located there does not mean it’s free of consequence if found in your drug screen.
Federal laws vs state laws:
No matter what the state decides, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug right now. The classification puts marijuana in the same category as heroin in the government’s eyes. This act considers pot to have a high potential for dependency and no accepted medical use. It also makes the distribution of marijuana a federal offense.
So while the below states agree to recreational weed or medical use, our government does not recognize this at a federal level. The state’s laws may have some influence but we can’t count on them protecting us in cases that end up in federal court.
States with legal recreational marijuana
- Washington, DC
States with legal medical marijuana
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Travel nurses need to be extra careful
Since there are no marijuana laws to truly protect us and our jobs and licenses, it all comes down to whoever happens to be judging us. We could have a biased judge in the courts, we could have a really conservative boss. We just have to be careful and not talk about our use (even if it’s medical) to any of our co-workers.
Here is a resource with the latest guidelines: the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). It is a good resource for the latest regulations as they progress. A trend of the future that is slowly getting adopted might eliminate unnecessary drug screens and loss of jobs. It’s called “no impairment, no discipline.” This guideline means consequences are only there for those who show up for work or work while impaired. This guideline helps to also reiterate that pre-employment use is not evidence of being a regular use or evidence you were ever impaired at work. It would also keep any of your peers, superiors, or nurses with biases from requesting drug screens on staff unnecessarily on employees who are not impaired, just because they know they use cannabis.
If a travel nurse tests positive on a drug screen…
If a travel nurse test comes back positive, the best outcome is no action. But worst-case scenario, you are suspended or there are attempts to revoke your license. And not just the license you carry in the state you are working but all licenses you have. You would need a hearing to go to the board or appeal the notion…that can take up to two years! Just for a hearing and a decision on if you can keep practicing. This would just be bad luck, you are caught in the wrong place, wrong time. But yes, this could happen even if you were never impaired at work or if you used cannabis over a week ago. Consequences can get real if things go up the chain.
It’s all annoying, contradictory, and it is not black and white. So our best advice (that is also pretty vague): Be careful. If you do use it, use cannabis responsibly and quietly. And (of course) never show up for work impaired.
Cheers to hopefully more open-mindedness, consistency of rules, and progress in the future.