Cannabis users could become feds under bipartisan House bill

The legislation already has the support of a variety of groups supporting the federal decriminalization of cannabis and critical of the War on Drugs.

The legislation already has the support of a variety of groups supporting the federal decriminalization of cannabis and critical of the War on Drugs. Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

The legislation also would allow federal job applicants who were previously denied positions or security clearances over marijuana usage dating back to 2008 to have those decisions reviewed under the newly proposed policy.

A bipartisan trio of House lawmakers last week introduced legislation that would allow marijuana users past and present to qualify for security clearances and serve as federal employees.

The Cannabis Users Restoration of Eligibility Act (H.R. 5040), sponsored by Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Nancy Mace, R-S.C., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would end the practice by which a job applicant’s past or current cannabis use are unable to apply for jobs in the federal government and can be the basis of denying them a security clearance.

Pressure for the federal government to ease up on regulations barring federal workers, particularly those who need security clearances for their jobs, from having ever used marijuana has grown in recent years. Currently, 38 states and Washington, D.C., allow for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, while 23 states and D.C. have enacted laws legalizing the sale and consumption of marijuana recreationally.

The topic has seen a flurry of activity both within the Biden administration and in Congress. In 2021, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines issued a memo to agency heads clarifying that while past cannabis use “remains relevant” to the security clearance process, it should no longer be “determinative” and automatically lead to rejection.

The fiscal 2024 Intelligence Authorization Act (S. 2103) , introduced in June by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, includes a provision that would bar intelligence agencies from denying security clearances to individuals based solely on their past use of marijuana. And last year, President Biden announced that his administration would review marijuana’s status as a federally controlled substance.

But Raskin, Mace and Blumenauer’s bill goes further, barring federal agencies from denying security clearances or rejecting the job applications of prospective public servants due to cannabis use at any time, past or present.

“Notwithstanding any other law, rule or regulation, current or past use of marijuana by a covered person may not be used in any determination with respect to whether such person is eligible for a security clearance or suitable for federal employment, including under any suitability determination,” the bill states.

The legislation also sets up a process by which applicants for federal jobs or security clearances who had been denied due to their marijuana use may ask federal agencies to reconsider that decision, dating back to Jan. 1, 2008. And if the agency reconfirms the original denial after that process, the applicant may appeal the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

“Every year, qualified and dedicated individuals seeking to serve our country are unable to secure federal jobs and security clearances because the federal government has not caught up with the widely established legal use of medical and recreational cannabis,” Raskin said in a statement. “I am proud to partner with my friend Rep. Mace to introduce the bipartisan CURE Act that will eliminate the draconian, failed and obsolete marijuana policies that prevent talented individuals from becoming honorable public servants in their own government.”

The legislation already has the support of a variety of groups supporting the federal decriminalization of cannabis and critical of the War on Drugs.

“There are many talented and dedicated people who have used cannabis and want to serve their country,” said Terry Blevins, a board member at the Law Enforcement Action Partnership and a former police sergeant and Defense Department civilian investigator. “Compromising recruitment by our federal agencies with antiquated cannabis laws makes our nation less safe in the face of security threats we face globally.”

“For too long, the federal government has been denying Americans civil service opportunities solely because of its outdated attitudes toward cannabis and those who consume it,” said Morgan Fox, political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Denying these millions of Americans consideration for employment and security clearances is discriminatory and it unnecessarily shrinks the talent pool available for these important jobs.”