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Would the state deny employees the opportunity for legal cannabis income on the side?

  • Author: Scott Woodham
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 11, 2015

"Sally" asks: "All state employees have to declare any alternative income, and jobs that could potentially interfere with their work duties. My question is, can and will the state deny employees from participating in the commercial marijuana industry regardless of the employee not consuming the drug themselves?"

In the world of Alaska cannabis policy and regulation, a clear answer is a beautiful thing. And that's exactly what we found here. There's no law against state employees getting involved in the commercial cannabis industry, and unless there's an ethical concern or conflict between the venture and their state job, they're in the clear.

Megan Collie, special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, said after looking into the question that the issue is "more of an ethics question than anything."

Dave Jones, senior assistant attorney general with the Department of Law, said the applicable part of state law here is the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Those rules, he said, allow state employees to have side jobs or income as long as the work is "neither incompatible with or in conflict with the proper discharge of their official duties."

According to Jones, "employees are required to disclose their outside employment and service at least annually, and those disclosures are subject to review and approval by their ethics supervisors."

Read more Highly Informed: Seeking answers to Alaska's cannabis questions

State workers will be very familiar with this drill, but for everyone else, the state's FAQ sheet for employees lists the following as required disclosures: "Any compensated employment; Any compensated services benefiting a business or organization you are involved with; Any volunteer activity, if you receive any type of compensation, such as payment for travel or meals; and any other volunteer or non-compensated work, if there is a possibility that such work conflicts with your official state duties."

There could be reasons that the state would deny an employee some cannabis moonlighting, but they'd all be ethical ones. Hypothetical situations are pretty much impossible to anticipate here, but an obvious candidate for mushroom-cloud-level ethical breach would be a cannabis licensing enforcement officer who owns a stake in a commercial grow. Pretty obvious there. An office assistant, for, say, the Division of Library, Museums and Archives who moonlights as a bud trimmer would probably be in the clear.

However, anyone who is subject to drug tests as a condition of state employment should consider taking precautions on a cannabis side job that involves heavy, direct contact with cannabis plants or resins. The odds of casual contact leading to a positive test are very low, but taking chances isn't wise. Drug tests are separate from the issue at hand, though.

If a cannabis side job were deemed in violation of the state ethics act, Jones said, the employee would have to give up the side gig or leave the state job. "But," he said, "no state law, regulation, or policy bars all state employees from engaging in legal, cannabis-related businesses while they are off duty."

So, if you're a state worker who wants to beef up a retirement portfolio, or make up income lost to mandatory furloughs or cuts to overtime, the cannabis industry may soon be an option.

Have a question about marijuana news or culture in Alaska? Send it to cannabis-north@alaskadispatch.com with "Highly Informed" in the subject line.

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