A key Senate committee has voted to amend an intelligence oversight bill to include a provision preventing agencies from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use.
The Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously passed the Intelligence Authorization Act on Wednesday after voting 10-7 to adop an amendment proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to prohibit security clearance denials for applicants to intelligence agencies like CIA and NSA just because they admitted to prior cannabis consumption.
“This bill includes historic bipartisan legislation reforming the country’s broken classification and declassification system,” Wyden said in a press release on Thursday. “The bill also includes my provision to ensure that cannabis use will not disqualify intelligence community applicants from serving their country. It’s a commonsense change to ensure the IC can recruit the most capable people possible. ”
The senator filed a broader amendment to last year’s version of the authorization legislation 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 text of the latest amendment won’t be available until it’s processed by legislative counsel, a committee spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Thursday.
However, Wyden’s description of it signals that the committee passed something similar to the more narrowly tailored proposal that was adopted last year.
Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a press release that the overall bill “furthers the Committee’s efforts to reform the security clearance process, so that the IC can attract and expeditiously on-board a talented, diverse, and trusted workforce to meet the emerging challenges we face.”
Wyden also raised the issue with Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines at a committee hearing in March.
“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,” Haines said.
“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,” she added. “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.”
The 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.
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.
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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.