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Marijuana policy lags behind growing national acceptance.
American flag flies next to the dome of the U.S. Capitol building
during rehearsal for the 2017 Inaugural Ceremonies in Washington on Jan.
15, 2017. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
The Peace Corps has a drug problem.
a problem related to an increasingly outdated view of marijuana but
significant enough to the agency’s Office of Inspector General that it
warns of a “serious risk to the integrity and reputation of the Peace
Corps as well as the health and safety of Volunteers.”
The warning, in a management advisory report from Inspector General Kathy A. Buller, said “efforts to address Volunteer drug use have been insufficient.”
number of drug cases opened by the inspector general jumped four times
from fiscal 2013 to 2015. Drug use led to at least 152 volunteers,
working in 26 countries, leaving the Peace Corps between January 2015
and February 2018.
To demonstrate the impact, Buller compared it to losing more than a century of service.
a result of these separations, students, counterpart agencies, host
family members, and other community members lost 117 potential years of
service and support from the Peace Corps,” Buller wrote Aug. 7 to Peace
Corps Director Jody Olsen and Chief Compliance Officer Anne Hughes. “For
context, this loss would be equivalent to the Volunteer service years
lost if Peace Corps had decided to cease all operations at a small post
such as Belize or Tonga over the same 3-year period.”
service lost is more valuable than the money, which amounts to almost a
half-million dollars “in taxpayer and host country partner resources
More importantly, “at posts found to
have widespread drug use, large portions of the Volunteer population may
be separated, resulting in an especially acute” problems for those
In one agricultural post, 52 percent
of the Peace Corps volunteers were “separated,” meaning they quit or
were fired, in connection with a single drug investigation.
the review period, one volunteer died because of drug use and seven
were arrested by foreign authorities. One person was sentenced to six
months (though less than a month was served), “marking the second
occasion in which a Volunteer was convicted of drug trafficking in the
same country within the last five years,” according to the report.
Buller would not reveal which countries were involved in the cases.
drug primarily referenced is marijuana, which remains illegal under
federal law. Cannabis is legally available for medicinal purposes in the
District, 31 states, Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures. It is permitted for recreational use
in nine states and the District.
changing attitude toward marijuana apparently is of no matter to the
Peace Corps. It would not address questions about the report or medical
marijuana but did issue a statement saying that the “Peace Corps has a
zero tolerance drug use policy for Volunteers.” Medical marijuana was
not within the scope of Buller’s report. Any drug policy determination,
she said by phone, is up to the agency.
policy cited in the report says: “The Peace Corps enforces this strict
policy not only because the cultivation, manufacture, and traffic in and
use of drugs, including marijuana, is illegal in most countries; but
also because drug involvement by V/Ts (volunteer/trainee) in any country
could seriously jeopardize the entire Peace Corps program, as well as
the safety and health of the V/Ts.”
calls for drug users to be “separated immediately” and says that those
separated “will not be considered for a transfer to another program or
reinstatement regardless of the quality of their service.”
yourself in provides no leniency. “Any self-referral,” the report
declared, “will ultimately result in the termination of their Peace
The inspector general made six
recommendations, including that the agency review the evidentiary
standard required to fire a volunteer. The agency’s statement said it is
reviewing the report and will respond to the recommendations.
Volunteer and Staff misconduct is generally decided by a ‘preponderance
of evidence,’ ” the report said, “the standard used for demonstrating
‘involvement with drugs’ is ‘clear and convincing,’ a standard that
requires a higher level of certainty.”
of that higher standard, the inspector general said Peace Corps country
directors could benefit if they could subject workers to “reasonable
suspicion drug testing.”
Matthew Sheehey, an
agency spokesman, said volunteers are not drug tested, but staffers with
security clearances are subject to random testing.
inspector general also suggested that the agency collect better drug
use data. “Lack of such information obscures the scope of drug use among
Volunteers and remains an obstacle to prioritizing and addressing the
problem,” the report said.
“Drug use among
Peace Corps Volunteers risks damaging host-country relations and has led
to foreign incarceration, loss of life, and the premature departure
from service of many Volunteers,” the report concluded. “The Peace
Corps’ policy has placed a unique level of urgency on Volunteer drug use
by requiring that every case of drug involvement be brought to the
attention of the Peace Corps Director, yet the agency’s action has not
been proportional to the urgency placed on the problem.”