Is there truly a rise in poppy seed related security clearance issues? Or is this another case of poppy seed subterfuge? A military memo from earlier this year warned service chiefs of the military branches of a rise in positive drug tests related to poppy seed consumption, noting some were being contaminated in harvest with morphine and codeine. Poppy seeds already have trace amounts of opium alkaloids which could cause a false positive. Security clearance legal correspondent Sean Bigley and ClearanceJobs’ Lindy Kyzer weigh the risks and possibilities of a poppy seed positive drug test.
Sean Bigley (00:30):
Welcome to the conversation. I’m Sean Bigley and I’m here with Lindy Kyzer of ClearanceJobs.com. We’re talking this segment about bad news for poppy seed muffin and bagel lovers. And Lindy, I don’t know about you. I’m not a big poppy seed guy. I mean, if I’m going to have a bagel, I want some onions on it. I don’t know. What’s your thought?
Lindy Kyzer (00:49):
Oh, onions on your bagels. No, really? Oh
Sean Bigley (00:55):
Lindy Kyzer (00:56):
I do love a nice poppy seed muffin poppy seed bagel, little poppy seed zucchini bread. I should not be taking a drug test anytime soon because I do get a little nervous when DoD puts out these announcements. I always think they’re fake though. Is this seriously a problem? I think we saw like they’re seriously warning people. Is this just a sign that a lot more people are on drugs and they’re trying to blame poppy seeds? We need to, is there poppy seed marijuana actually? And then, whoops.
Sean Bigley (01:24):
It kind of reminds me of, I don’t know if you ever used to watch the old TV show cops, but there were always some great episodes on that show where people would get pulled over and they’d get searched and the cop would go into their pockets and pull out a big bag of drugs and they’d say, oh, these are my cousin’s pants. It’s the same thing. It’s the poppy seeds, right? You weren’t actually using the drugs. It was the poppy seed muffin. So I think this is in very much the Urban dictionary speak. This is kind of the slang, or almost like a joke. I don’t think people take it seriously, but the irony is, unlike the cousin’s pants, this is probably actually a real thing. And we know this in part because earlier this year the Department of Defense issued a memorandum with the blaring subject line warning regarding poppy seed consumption and military drug testing.
And when I saw this, I had the same kind of initial reaction like, do we really need this? Guys? This is a little overkill, but the reality is much like we have talked about in similar context with CBD and with people using CBD even that they think is federally legal and then popping positive for marijuana on a drug test, you can in fact pop positive for illegal substances on a drug test by consuming enough poppy seeds. And so I want to read just a little excerpt from this memo that DOD issued earlier this year because I think this is very telling. It says, seeds may be contaminated during harvest with morphine and codeine, and the Department of Defense uses drug testing cutoffs to distinguish morphine and codeine use from poppy seed ingestion. Recent data suggests certain poppy seed varieties may have higher codeine contamination than previously reported consumption of poppy seed products could cause a codeine positive urinalysis result and undermine the department’s ability to identify illicit drug use.
So in plain English, what they’re essentially saying is not that it’s the poppy seeds for the sake of poppy seeds that they’re concerned about, but rather much like the CBD issue, that the stuff in this case, the poppy seeds may actually be contaminated with something else that you don’t know about i e morphine or codeine, which are both going to cause you to pop positive on a drug test. What they don’t say in this memo is kind of the elephant in the room, which is that the poppy plan, the poppy flour is harvested to produce a variety of drugs, most notably heroin. So what you don’t want is certainly consuming enough of this stuff and popping positive for heroin. But even a little bit of it, they’re saying theoretically if they’re contaminated, pop positive for morphine or codeine. So the takeaway that I had as a lawyer from reading this is don’t touch this stuff with a 30 foot pole. Because even if you have one poppy seed muffin, you’re probably not going to pop positive for heroin, although I’ve even heard some crazy horror stories of that. But you may pop positive for morphine or coating if you get unlucky enough and the seeds you ate were contaminated. This is kind of a big deal, I think. What’s your thought?
Lindy Kyzer (04:39):
I have a whole jar of poppy seeds in my pantry and I kind of want to just boss it right now and take a drug test and see what happens. The skeptic in me is obviously – I want to see some numbers. Are they really having more service members pop hot on a drug test because of poppy seeds or have there been cases or why are you producing this memo military? Why is the DOD doing this? And then again, also the skeptic in me is like, I think we just must have more service members who are doing morphine and codeine and heroin and trying to blame poppy seeds. I dunno, I just can’t believe that it’s the poppy seed’s fault and this is a broader drug issue. The drug issue just keeps coming up for security clearance and DOD and we know it’s a problem. So again, I just think it’s interesting that they’re talking about poppy seeds, but I will be curious to know what are the actual numbers – are more service members just testing positive for drugs in their system and they’re saying poppy seeds. The one guy was able to demonstrate it was poppy seed related. Everybody else it was just the drugs.
Sean Bigley (05:49):
Yeah, I mean, I would be curious too. I think anecdotally, I can say this was a really common thing that I saw my practice, I would get calls all the time from military service members who either had tested positive for drugs as the lawyer defending them, you’re not really supposed to ask, did you in fact consume drugs because then it makes the defense a lot harder. There’s certain things you can’t say or do ethically. My sneaking suspicion in a number of those cases was that they had consumed some drugs, but we always innocent until proven guilty. But in fairness, I do think there are also some people who legitimately are in this case eating something that they are perfectly entitled to eat and then for whatever reason they get unlucky and there is that weird case of contamination. So I don’t know. I mean, the concern that I have as a lawyer or that I would have if I were in the shoes of a service member is it’s impossible to determine which one it is.
If you test positive, there are some scenarios where you can make a credible argument for one or the other. Obviously if somebody pops positive, and by the way, the word pop is in poppy seeds, so I mean further, you know what I’m saying? You got to, yeah, it all ties in. Read the tea leaves literally and figuratively. But my concern, and we saw this over and over is, unless you are somebody who’s going to the extreme, I’ll use the example of CBD and marijuana because this is one that has come up tons. If you’re somebody who’s smoking pot constantly and you pop positive, you’re not going to have a credible argument that it was CBD, because the level of THC in your bloodstream is going to be so high that nobody’s going to buy that. The flip side is if you’re using CBD and you either get a batch that you think is federally legal, but in fact it’s mislabeled or you’re using enough of it that the accumulation of it in the bloodstream causes you to pop positive, generally you’re going to be right over the threshold for testing positive.
So in that case, we can at least make a credible argument to say, Hey, this guy was using CBD based on the threshold that he barely crossed. If he was smoking weeded, it probably would’ve been higher, but it’s not a slam dunk. I mean, you’re essentially arguing for one interpretation, but somebody could also come back and say, well, that’s possible, but it’s also possible that he smoked weeded once a week ago and it’s just dissipated from his system. Same thing here. If you’re injecting heroin, obviously you’re going to be off the charts for a drug test, but if you’re eating poppy seed muffins and you happen to eat the wrong one or you eat too much or whatever, there’s going to be that lingering question, did you use it a few weeks ago when it’s dissipated? Did you happen to get unlucky? And so I think that’s really where they’re coming at this from is like, don’t put yourself in the position as a service member where you have to try to make a case that you were doing something legitimate when if you just avoid this stuff, it’s a non-issue.
And because we now have this memorandum until, unless it gets rescinded the way that I read it, and to be fair, not an expert in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but I have enough exposure to it that I would take away from this, that this would be construed as a general order. And so now if you are a service member and you are eating anything with poppy seeds in it, regardless of whether or not you pop positive, technically, that could be in and of itself construed as a UCMJ violation of a general order. So not something I would recommend messing with. If folks are like you and they’ve got that jar of poppy seeds in the pantry and they just can’t live without it, I would say you may have to put that on hold till you get out of the military and find your fix somewhere else legally, of course. But for other folks, I don’t know. It seems like a gamble there. Yeah,
Lindy Kyzer (09:47):
If you want to take down the military, a basket of poppy seed muffins is basically what we’re saying. So beware, we’re going to start seeing military bases infiltrated with free muffins. Used to be you can give away some free baked goods on a military base. No more. They’re saying no baked goods.
Sean Bigley (10:02):
Parachuting them behind the lines. I don’t know that. Maybe that’s the new war tactic.
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