In a significant move, a Senate committee has voted to modify an intelligence oversight bill by including a provision that prohibits agencies from rejecting security clearances based solely on an applicant’s past marijuana use. The Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously passed the Intelligence Authorization Act on Wednesday after a 10-7 vote in favor of an amendment proposed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). The amendment specifically aims to prevent security clearance denials for individuals who have admitted to prior cannabis consumption when applying to intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA.
Senator Wyden expressed his satisfaction with the progress, stating, “This bill encompasses historic bipartisan legislation that seeks to reform the country’s flawed classification and declassification system. It also includes my provision to ensure that cannabis use does not disqualify applicants from the intelligence community. This common-sense change guarantees that the intelligence community can recruit the most qualified individuals to serve our country.”
Initially, Senator Wyden had submitted a broader amendment to last year’s version of the authorization legislation, which aimed to prevent employment discrimination based on past or present cannabis use in all federal departments, not solely intelligence-related ones. However, the provision was scaled back through a second-degree amendment proposed by the committee’s chairman before being adopted. Subsequently, when the marijuana language was included, two Republican senators objected to attaching the broader bill to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), leading to the ultimate withdrawal of the reform.
The specific details of the latest amendment will be made available once it has been processed by legislative counsel, according to a committee spokesperson. However, based on Senator Wyden’s description, it appears that the committee has passed something similar to the more narrowly tailored proposal adopted last year.
Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) highlighted the bill’s positive aspects in a press release, saying, “The overall bill further advances the Committee’s efforts to reform the security clearance process, enabling the intelligence community to efficiently recruit and onboard a talented, diverse, and trusted workforce, capable of addressing the emerging challenges we face.”
Senator Wyden also raised the issue of cannabis use with Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines during a committee hearing in March. Haines acknowledged that many states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana and emphasized the need to ensure that individuals are not disqualified solely on that basis. She stated, “We want to attract the talent that exists in America, and experimental use of cannabis in a legal state should not be an automatic disqualification. We approach this from a holistic perspective and expect all applicants to comply with our policies and laws when holding a position of trust.”
In 2021, the DNI issued a memo advising federal employers against outright rejecting security clearance applicants based on past cannabis use, and also encouraged discretion when evaluating applicants with cannabis investments in their stock portfolios.
On the House side, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) previously filed an amendment that called for federal agencies to review security clearance denials dating back to 1971 and retroactively prevent cannabis from being used as a reason for denial or rescission. However, this measure narrowly failed in a floor vote. Raskin has expressed intentions to introduce standalone legislation on the issue, although no specific action has been taken yet.
In related news, the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) recently revised its employment policy to be more inclusive of individuals who have previously used marijuana. Under the new policy, candidates of any age become eligible for consideration one year after their last consumption of cannabis, replacing stricter age-based restrictions. Additionally, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) updated its cannabis rules for job applicants. Those who have grown, manufactured, or sold marijuana in compliance with state laws while serving in
a “position of public responsibility” will no longer face automatic disqualification.
In 2020, the FBI also made adjustments to its hiring policies. Candidates are now only automatically disqualified if they admit to using marijuana within one year of applying, compared to the previous requirement of no cannabis use within the past three years. Former FBI Director James Comey expressed his desire to relax the agency’s employment policies on marijuana, recognizing the need to attract highly skilled workers who may have experimented with cannabis.
Furthermore, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stated in 2020 that it does not consider using illegal drugs as an indicator of a person’s character.
Last year, draft documents obtained by Marijuana Moment revealed that the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was proposing changes to job application forms, suggesting a more lenient approach towards past cannabis use compared to the current policy.
In 2021, the Biden administration implemented a policy authorizing waivers for certain workers who disclose prior marijuana use. However, some lawmakers are advocating for further reforms.
A recent survey found that strict marijuana policies required for security clearances have deterred 30 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 from applying or withdrawing their applications for federal jobs.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act marks a significant step in addressing the issue of marijuana use and security clearances. By preventing agencies from denying security clearances based solely on past cannabis consumption, the amendment recognizes the changing attitudes and legal landscape surrounding marijuana in various states. It aims to ensure that qualified individuals are not unjustly disqualified from serving in intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA.
These developments in employment policies within intelligence and law enforcement agencies reflect a growing recognition of the need to reassess outdated stances on cannabis use and take a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants. As attitudes towards marijuana continue to evolve, it is essential for federal agencies to adapt their policies to attract diverse and talented individuals who can contribute to their missions effectively.
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