A congressional committee next week will vote on a bill to protect people from being denied federal employment or security clearances due to marijuana use—and to provide relief for people who lost opportunities due to cannabis in the past.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee will hold a markup on the legislation, the Cannabis Users’ Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act, on Wednesday, Chairman James Comer (R-KY) announced late Friday.
“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,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the bill’s lead sponsor, said when he filed the measure in July.
The change “will eliminate the draconian, failed and obsolete marijuana policies that prevent talented individuals from becoming honorable public servants in their own government,” he said.
A separate cannabis bill, meanwhile, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, is scheduled for consideration a week later, on September 27, in a Senate panel.
Raskin’s employment and security clearance bill says that “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 otherwise suitable for federal employment under existing code.
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Within one year of enactment, all federal agencies would be required to create a process to review each past decision to deny security clearances or job opportunities over cannabis use going back to January 1, 2008, the bill says. They would need to maintain a website so that people could request a review of a decision made in their situation, and the agency would need to “reconsider such individual’s security clearance or employment application” within 90 days if they find that they were denied because of marijuana use alone.
If that person is still denied clearance or employment following the agency’s reconsideration, they would have 30 days to appeal that decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The board would then need to review the case within 120 days, and if it determines that marijuana use was the basis of the denial, it would need to “order the Federal agency to immediately redetermine the individual’s request for reconsideration.”
Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) are cosponsoring the legislation with Raskin.
Comer, the Oversight Committee chair, said in a memo on Friday that he intends to file an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the bill during Wednesday’s markup, though it’s not clear what kind of changes to its current provisions he has in mind.
The CURE Act represents an expansion of an amendment that Raskin filed as part of a House-passed cannabis legalization bill last year. That measure would have only covered security clearances instead of also including overall employment decisions as is the case under the new legislation. However, the retroactivity would have required a review of denials going back further, to 1971, instead of 2008. The amendment was narrowly defeated on the House floor.
In July, the Senate approved legislation that would prevent intelligence agencies from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed a broader amendment last year that would have prevented employment discrimination based on prior or present cannabis use at any federal department, not just those dealing with intelligence. But the provision was scaled back under a second-degree amendment from the panel’s chairman before being adopted by the committee. And then the reform was ultimately quashed when two GOP senators objected to attaching the broader bill to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on the floor if it included the marijuana language.
The Director of National Intelligence (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.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) recently updated its employment policy to be more accommodating to applicants who’ve previously used marijuana, making it so candidates of any age become eligible one year after they last consumed cannabis. Previously, there were stricter age-based restrictions.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has also revised its cannabis rules for job applicants. Applicants who’ve grown, manufactured or sold marijuana in compliance with state laws while serving in a “position of public responsibility” will no longer be automatically disqualified.
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.
Late last year, draft documents obtained by Marijuana Moment showed that the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was proposing to replace a series of job application forms for prospective workers in a way that would treat past cannabis use much more leniently than under current policy.
The Biden administration instituted a policy in 2021 authorizing waivers to be granted to certain workers who admit to prior marijuana use, but certain lawmakers have pushed for additional reform.
A recent survey found that 30 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 30 have either declined to apply or withdrawn applications for federal jobs because of strict marijuana policies required for security clearances.
Some attorneys also believe that if the Drug Enforcement Administration reschedules marijuana, as the Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended, that could push federal agencies to further review their employee drug policies.