Smoke ’em If You Got ’em! An Elected Official’s Run-In With HR.

There’s a story kicking around my hood that I thought FOT readers might enjoy.

You may have heard, during the 2012 election, the educated/enlightened/hipster voters of the great state of Washington, together with our progressive friends in Colorado, decided to de-criminalize marijuana. The feeling is that it’s not as harmful as other things we put in our bodies (tobacco, alcohol, Twinkies, etc.) and we are currently spending too much time arresting people and throwing them in jail for going all Ringo and getting high with a little help from their friends.

Now, when the new laws officially went into effect, the state made it very clear that this was a legal move only. People would no longer be prosecuted for pot usage or for being high. However… employers were still free to do what they wished. No-drug workplace? Fine. Keep your rules. Drug testing policy? A-ok! You can keep it.

And, this is where it gets exciting!

The City of Seattle, a government entity, still has drug policies. Our elected City Attorney, Pete Holmes, was a huge supporter of the marijuana initiative. When the first public pot shops opened a couple months ago, Mr. Holmes was one of the first in line to partake in his new right to purchase weed without being arrested.

All fine and dandy so far.

In front of press cameras, our elected city attorney purchased two bags of pot. He publicly declared to reporters that he intends to save one as a relic of sorts. The other, he plans to light up! After all… this is a historic moment!

Ok… I don’t love that my kid hears a member of our government talking about doing drugs, but whatever. I can have that talk later.

It’s his next step where Mr. Holmes screws up. You see, the average work day of a city attorney is pretty busy. Mr. Holmes is no exception. So, rather than swing by his home to drop off his new purchase, Mr. Holmes goes back to the office, throws 4 ounces of weed into his desk, on city property, in a drug-free work zone, and goes about his day.

And, the next day, according to news outlets, he received a nice little note from HR.

You see, apparently, if he were a regular old working schmoe, he would have quickly been punished. Not only was he in possession of a substance still banned by Federal law in his workplace, but he used “company time” to go purchases said substance… also a significant no-no.

Obviously, however, Pete Holmes is not some dude out fixing pot holes. He’s the city attorney. An elected official. You can’t just fire the guy! But, after a little nudging from the mayor (and after a lot of pressure from the press), Mr. Holmes decided to apologize and said he would donate $300 to charity.

“Wait just one darn second,” says HR one more time.  “If you were a regular city employee, you would have been suspended for a week!”

“Fine!” responds Mr. Holmes, eyes glazed in frustration before he ups his donation to $3,000.

In the end, the punishment was probably much more about public opinion than anything substantial. But still, HR stepped up to make sure that this official didn’t sit on a higher pedestal because he was elected. He was being held to the same rules as all the other regular city employees. He was expected to also be compliant with Federal regulations, even though he was a political supporter of a controversial topic. The rules are black and right, Mr. City Attorney. Come off your pedestal so you can read them.

Anyway, there you go. A little story from my neck of the woods. I am curious what others think.  Do you think he should have been punished more? Would you have let it slide?

This whole incident has me wondering if Congress has an HR team? If so, maybe they can write in some new performance management expectations.


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Jason Pankow
Jason Pankow realized long ago that he wasn’t smart enough to actually program video games and game consoles. So, he found another way to participate! In between bouts of pwning newbs in Halo or scoring mad gamerpoints, Jason spends his time as the Staffing Program Manager for Microsoft’s Devices and Studios Division. Jason’s day is spent running programs that help recruit the obscenely talented developers, designers and engineers that have blessed the world with the likes of Xbox, Kinect and tons of other rad stuff, much of which he can’t tell you about. So, don’t ask. In non-nerd speak…what this means is that Jason has the coolest recruiting job in the world! Look him up as “Satchmo Baggins” on Xbox LIVE. But, watch out for the dreaded headshot!


  1. Ernie Tamayo says:

    This is the kind of story that makes me think that HR has a little too much time on their hands. First thought is that the city attorneys office is on city property, which falls under the jurisdiction of the state, where in fact, marijuana is now legal. Why the big deal? Had it been on federal property I would say ok…maybe that might be an issue. But this just seems so non-sensical and absurd. Granted that he should be accountable for possession of a banned item in the workplace, but let’s think about that for a second, is marijuana a dangerous item as would be a weapon? Probably not. Should it be held to the same standard as other items like alcohol? Sure. But as long as its not being consumed (or smoked in this case) in the actual workplace, what’s the big deal? If we want to get literal, I’d be curious to know if there in fact is a ban on alcohol at this workplace, and how many times bottles of wine were given out to employees during a holiday festivity or as a holiday gift.

    I’m also guessing that the city attorney is not a hourly employee, so does it matter that he went to go buy some pot during the workday? I’m sure he works his fair share of 40+ hours a week where the fifteen minutes it took him to score some pot would have been made up somewhere else.

    This is the stuff that continues to make it difficult for HR to shed that policy police image.

    • Jason Pankow
      Jason Pankow says:

      Hi Ernie…thanks for the comment!

      A quick clarification on your first though: because the city receives federal funds, it is obligated to follow the drug-free workplace rules of the federal government (as is my understanding as someone who does HR in the private sector).

      You make an excellent point on the fact that he is most likely an exempt employee. I hadn’t thought of that. I think that’s a fair criticism.

      • Kelly says:

        It’s fantastic to hear that the HR Rep was so brave as to call a bigwig like that on bringing drugs into a drug free workplace. I’m a benefits administrator (not in HR yet but am going in that direction) and understand the problems that come with firing someone in which the state says this drug is legal but the workplace code of conduct states that you are not to come into work high or carrying marijuana.

        I’m fairly certain it will be a moot point in a right to work state, though.

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