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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Drug test cost DEA agent his job, but he sued and got it back

By Ernesto Londoño New York Times

The Drug Enforcement Administration regarded Anthony Armour as an “outstanding” special agent. But in 2019, a routine drug test derailed his career.

Months earlier, Armour said he had begun using CBD oil, which is derived from hemp, to treat chronic pain, deeming it safer than the highly addictive painkillers that were the focus of his criminal investigations.

His failed drug test led the government to fire him, setting off a lengthy court battle.

Last week, Armour, 49, won his case. The Department of Justice agreed to rehire him as a special agent, provide some back pay, cover his legal expenses and restore his eligibility for a pension.

In 2018, Congress legalized CBD products that contain less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. But in 2020, the Food and Drug Administration found that several products sold as CBD contained more than trace amounts of THC.

By then, some consumers began failing drug tests. Among them was Armour, who has grappled with chronic pain for years. He has said he was injured as a college football player and later at work, including in a traffic accident during a surveillance operation that left him with an acute sprain in the neck and severe back pain.

After the crash, in 2016, Armour said he considered taking legally prescribed opioids but opted not to because he had seen the dangers of opioid addiction up close. In early 2019, he ordered a vaporizer and CBD tinctures. The products eased his pain, Armour said, and he believed he had no reason to think he was taking a risk.

After a routine drug test came back positive for marijuana a few months later, he told supervisors he had been using CBD and turned the products over to investigators. Lab tests showed two contained less than 0.3% THC, but one had a slightly elevated level: 0.35%, which was within the test’s 0.08% margin of error.

In 2020, Armour was fired.

In a lawsuit that asserted wrongful termination, Matthew Zorn, Armour’s lawyer, argued that his client had not intentionally used marijuana, that the DEA had no explicit rules regarding CBD use by employees and that termination had been an unduly harsh punishment.

In a legal filing, the Department of Justice acknowledged there was no evidence Armour had intentionally broken the law. The agency agreed to reinstate Armour and pay him $470,000 in back pay and legal costs.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.