A top U.S. intelligence official reaffirmed on Wednesday that it is not the federal government’s current policy to deny people security clearances based on past marijuana use alone, stating that it is counterproductive to recruitment efforts, especially amid the growing legalization movement.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) took the opportunity to ask Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines to explain the rationale behind the discretionary policy on prior cannabis use.
“We recognize, frankly, that many states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana use and wanted to be sure that we’re not disqualifying people solely for that purpose in that context,” she replied.
“We obviously believe that we want to have the talent that exists in America—and when somebody is using [cannabis] experimentally in a legal state that’s something that shouldn’t on its own essentially disqualify,” Haines said. “We continue to approach this from a whole-person perspective. And we expect if anybody takes the job to comply with our policies and our laws in a trusted position.”
DNI issued a memo in 2021 saying that federal employers shouldn’t outright reject security clearance applicants over past use and should also use discretion when it comes to those with cannabis investments in their stock portfolios.
A spokesperson in the DNI’s office told Marijuana Moment at the time that “increased legalization of marijuana use at state and local levels has prompted questions on how the federal government treats an individual’s involvement with marijuana to determine eligibility for national security positions or access to classified information.”
Last year, the Intelligence Committee approved an amendment from Wyden that would have codified that the federal government would be prohibited from denying people the security clearances they need to work at intelligence agencies simply because they’ve used marijuana.
That legislation had been scaled back in the panel before advancing, as it initially would have applied to any federal worker, not just those working in intelligence.
But the more narrow amendment was ultimately removed from the larger intelligence bill when senators moved to attach it to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last year, with two GOP members blocking its inclusion.
On the House side, prior to a vote to pass a federal marijuana legalization bill last year, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) filed an amendment to require federal agencies to review security clearance denials going back to 1971 and retroactively make it so cannabis could not be used “as a reason to deny or rescind a security clearance.” But that measure was narrowly defeated in a floor vote.
Raskin later said he would soon be filing a standalone legislation on the issue, but has not yet done so.
Meanwhile, FBI updated its hiring policies in 2020 to make it so candidates are only automatically disqualified from joining the agency if they admit to having used marijuana within one year of applying. Previously, prospective employees of the agency could not have used cannabis within the past three years.
Former FBI Director James Comey in 2014 suggested that he wanted to loosen the agency’s employment policies as it concerns marijuana, as potential skilled workers were being passed over due to the requirement.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
Also, in 2020, CIA said that it doesn’t necessarily believe using illegal drugs makes you a bad person.
Separately, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is planning to replace a series of job application forms for prospective federal workers in a way that would treat past marijuana use much more leniently than under current policy. It recently sought White House approval of the policy change.
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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
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