The Justice Department is standing by the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) decision to terminate a "distinguished" special agent who had served for 16 years. The agent, Anthony Armour, was dismissed due to a positive THC test result after using a CBD product for pain relief, believing it to be legal hemp.
In May, Anthony Armour initiated legal action against the DEA, seeking to overturn his termination on various grounds, including insufficient "substantial evidence" of his use of an illegal substance and considering his exemplary professional history.
However, the DEA disagrees with Armour's perspective. In their response brief submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the agency contends that Armour's arguments lack validity and improperly urge the Court to disregard established federal drug policies and reevaluate the evidence against the standard of review.
DEA attorneys remarked, "Mr. Armour was a commendable DEA agent who took a risk in 2019. He believed that CBD products were unlikely to trigger a positive marijuana test. Still, he recognized the possibility and purchased these unregulated items online, consuming them despite that knowledge."
Armour maintains that he displayed negligence and poor judgment, acknowledging that the DEA was correct in holding him accountable for his actions when they resulted in a confirmed positive drug test. The DEA lost confidence in Armour and deemed his removal appropriate.
The filing emphasizes, "This marks a regrettable conclusion to a lengthy and productive career in federal law enforcement. However, the DEA is entrusted with enforcing our nation's drug laws, and federal employees are accountable for what they introduce into their bodies. A clear and genuine connection exists between dismissal for illicit drug use and maintaining the efficiency of a drug enforcement agency's service."
DEA's Argument: Balancing the Crucial Nature of the Agent's Role with CBD Usage Controversy
While Armour contested the notion of a connection between his use of a CBD product and the DEA's mission, the agency contended that the "crucial and sensitive nature" of his role within the organization established a genuine link between his dismissal for illicit drug use and the agency's operational efficiency.
The DEA acknowledged that Armour may not have intended to consume an illegal substance but argued that because he was aware that the product contained at least trace amounts of THC, his consumption was "reckless" and warranted his removal.
In a significant move, the government used a Reagan-era executive order to define an "illegal drug" as any Schedule I or Schedule II prohibited narcotic that was not prescribed. Suppose marijuana was moved from Schedule I to Schedule III, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggested in an ongoing scheduling study. In that case, lawyers have questioned whether government employees like Armour would still be subject to such sanctions for marijuana use.
The new brief stated, "It is unsurprising that the DEA considers it a severe breach of conduct for an employee to use illegal drugs, regardless of the level of culpable intent, whether done intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. Mr. Armour's arguments erroneously equate his lack of criminal intent with innocent ingestion, disregarding his culpable intent."
Once more, the agency emphasized that Armour had "accumulated 16 years of service, earned outstanding performance ratings for three years, and provided letters of support from supervisors and colleagues."
Nevertheless, the DEA asserted that these facts, while potentially mitigating, did not "reach a threshold that justifies reducing the overall penalty."
DEA's Conflicting Priorities: Opioid Crisis Focus vs. Legal Battle Over CBD Use
Matt Zorn, an attorney representing Armour, informed Marijuana Moment on Friday that the DEA and its administrator have expressed a desire to allocate their resources toward combatting the opioid epidemic.
"One cannot help but wonder why they find themselves in a federal courtroom defending the termination of a special agent whose sole action was to remove these hazardous drugs from the streets. He did so only because, in an attempt to manage his pain, he consumed a product marketed as CBD oil, which, unbeknownst to him, straddled the fine line between hemp and marijuana in its composition – all because he wished to avoid using opiates," he remarked.
Since the agent's dismissal in 2020, the DEA has clarified that its agents are prohibited from using CBD due to concerns regarding mislabeling and inadvertent THC exposure. Notably, the agency modified its policy for job applicants in 2021, revising a questionnaire to inquire solely about hemp and cannabidiol use before the crop's federal legalization in December 2018.
The DEA is actively preparing for comprehensive cannabis rulemaking following hemp legalization. An official previously stated that the agency will explicitly declare synthetic cannabinoids as illegal controlled substances while concurrently moving towards the deregulation of synthetic CBD containing up to 0.1 per cent THC.
Nonetheless, the DEA remains under close scrutiny in the context of a marijuana scheduling review initiated by President Joe Biden last year. Following a scientific evaluation of cannabis, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) determined that cannabis would be more appropriately categorized as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). HHS recently forwarded its findings and recommendations to the DEA, which is currently conducting its own assessment before making a final scheduling determination.
For the present, the response brief in Armour's case emphasizes the DEA's strict adherence to the regulations classifying marijuana as a Schedule I substance.
The DEA's termination of Special Agent Anthony Armour over his use of CBD as an opioid alternative has triggered a legal dispute, spotlighting the intricate interplay between federal drug policies and individual actions. While Armour and his attorney contest the termination, citing a lack of substantial evidence, the DEA staunchly defends its decision, underlining its commitment to enforcing the nation's drug laws. This case also prompts questions about the DEA's priorities, as it focuses on battling the opioid epidemic while simultaneously embroiled in a legal battle over CBD use. The agency's use of a Reagan-era executive order to define illegal drugs and ongoing debates over marijuana's scheduling complexity further deepen the complexity. Amid these debates, the DEA remains under scrutiny regarding its unwavering adherence to marijuana's Schedule I classification, even as recommendations for reclassification to Schedule III are explored. This case underscores the ongoing legal and policy discussions surrounding CBD, marijuana, and drug enforcement in the United States.