First responder unions to allow CBD use

How First Responder’s Unions Will Allow CBD Use

Most of us work for the taxpayers.  We need to be held highly in their eyes and unions are always concerned about this. While I’m all for trying to improve working conditions and quality of life (of which CBD would do both) I don’t think local unions would all jump at the opportunity to bring CBD into their respective departments yet.


Because no one has been “first”.

We hear the questions all the time

  • Who allows CBD usage now?
  • How can this help firefighters?
  • What does the future look like for CBD or cannabis in the fire service?
The Current State of CBD for First Responders

Would the majority of the public be ok with their local firefighters using CBD? This is the question city hall dwellers have to answer and this is what the local unions have to educate themselves on to bring forward to the city. If city hall and/or your fire administration doesn’t have the answer to this question, they will keep everything status quo or even restrict CBD usage.

Personally, I think that the entire nation as a whole would not oppose firefighters using CBD. 

CBD is:

  • Legal
  • Non-intoxicating (no high)
  • No risk for addiction/dependency
  • Safe for daily use even with extremely high doses

But, citizens aren’t knocking down the doors of city hall demanding firefighters have CBD usage in their contract.

So, the question is: Who’s going to be first and how do we make this happen?

The two most prominent examples of first responders using CBD or cannabis are:

  1. The state of Arizona Police Board

They  made it clear that their police officers are allowed to use CBD. And cited the fact that CBD isolate could be used for professionals in the first responder or medical field. They understand that millions of Americans are now using CBD regularly without intoxication or inhibiting their jobs.

  1. The City of Pittsburgh (PA) Bureau of Fire

 They’ve gone so far as to allow their firefighters to explicitly use medicinal marijuana. The president of IAFF Local 1 (Pittsburgh) said that in researching policies of other fire departments, some have removed marijuana testing altogether on one extreme and on the other, some departments have made your medical marijuana card a disqualification for being a firefighter.

CBD Outside the First Responder Community

Congress has a bill on the floor that is going to allow the US military to use CBD, and it’s expected to pass by the end of the year.

The MLB removed testing for cannabinoids from their policy as of December 2019

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees the Olympics, allows for CBD use.

The NHL removed cannabinoids from their drug testing policy as well

A firefighter, baseball player and a soldier next to each other

The Future of CBD for All First Responders

I believe the biggest issue that cities and public safety administrators have with CBD, and probably cannabis in general, is that you can’t test for intoxication or impairment at the time you’re on shift.

Understand Marijuana Testing- It’s Important For CBD
A THC drug test

This is the bottom line and really, the main concern for city officials:

THC is the substance in cannabis that makes you feel high, this is what random drug tests look for. This urinalysis can show the same amount of THC whether you ingested THC yesterday or 30 days ago. And, you could show the same amount of THC in your urine if you were currently high or not within those 30 days of usage.

As a comparison, let’s look at the policy on alcohol in the fire service. 

  • Alcohol is legal, we’re all allowed to drink
  • You can’t be drunk on duty
  • We can enforce this with a breathalyzer

If you drank last night, but you’re not drunk on shift there’s no problem. If you drank last night and you have a blood alcohol level over the limit, you’re in deep trouble.

a man blowing into a breathalyzer

But, we can’t do this with marijuana (yet). Even if marijuana becomes legal in all 50 states, we’ll still have this issue. 

  • Marijuana is legal in many states.
  • You can’t be high on duty.
  • They can’t enforce it because there’s no good way to test it.
  • Marijuana is completely banned (Even in legal states) for the fire service.

And because of this, they’re worried that a false positive from CBD (which shouldn’t be happening with a quality product) can’t be distinguished from marijuana

The Negotiation Side – Getting CBD in The Door for First Responders

The good news is, technology may become better and more beneficial for us. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh may have created a breathalyzer for THC and this could solve all of our problems. While it’s very early on in the development process, if it works then we’re looking at the ability to use CBD throughout the country without restriction to full spectrum or isolate

[related: Full Spectrum vs Isolate, what’s the difference?]

But, we don’t need to wait on this breathalyzer or any other technology for us to be able to use CBD on duty.

We just need to educate ourselves on CBD. With just a little bit of research we can arm ourselves with enough knowledge to bring up a thoughtful and logical plan to our city or county administrators and our unions.

For example:

  • Your contract can read “THC is banned” vs CBD or cannabis products are banned
  • CBD isolate contains 0.000% THC if it’s made correctly and drug tests are a non-issue
  • Nothing else in the drug testing policy or discipline would need to change, it’s simply a language change.

Putting it forward as a language change and not a policy change has been effective in departments currently. This is because the city is just worried about intoxicated firefighters. If you’re passing drug tests, they’re not concerned about your readiness on duty. They want to be able to hold people accountable for failing a drug test. 

So let them, CBD isn’t going to change that. And let them know that. Being very forward in your negotiations.

A few good negotiating lines to use are: (paraphrased)

  • “We’re not here to change policy, we’re here to change language” 
  • “Our language needs to accurately reflect our drug testing policy, CBD is not tested for”
  • “We don’t want to take away any ability for the city to hold people accountable”a handshake between first responder unions

Don’t misconstrue this intention with these negotiating lines. I know that negotiations are a tricky business and you don’t want to give them all the power.

I’m not looking to get people jammed up. And, I sure don’t believe in giving up any union-earned benefits. What I’m suggesting with these is this: Since CBD isolate won’t show up on a drug test, you can alleviate the city’s (or county or bureau, etc) concern this language change being used as an excuse by members to now use marijuana. You can reinforce the fact that CBD isolate has 0.000% THC and drug testing will stay status quo.

Would you like to know more or have questions about CBD in your department?

We can set up a call and talk more or you can email me directly as well. I’ve helped consult departments of 150 members to 2500 members and in between as well and would love to help. I don’t charge for my time, I’m just genuinely interested in getting this movement started across the US fire service.

(561) 570-5233


If you found this article helpful, share with another brother or sister first responder and thanks for reading!

a short bio of Jon Vought

There are many unions in that allow CBD usage, some have gone as far as removing THC from their drug testing policy. Others have permitted it at a state level. Some variation always exists, but a few have specifically prohibited CBD use for a number of reasons, but largely due to their fear over failed drug tests.

Whether they want to add CBD usage into their individual contracts is decided at a local level. On a federal level, hemp and its extracts (including CBD) is legal. Unless your contract specifically prohibits CBD or hemp use, you’re allowed to use it.

The local unions have to decide whether they want to add CBD usage into their contracts. On a federal level, hemp and its extracts (including CBD) is legal. Unless your contract specifically prohibits CBD or hemp use, you’re allowed to use it

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