As Congress works to end federal marijuana prohibition, one key lawmaker says he will soon be introducing a bill aimed at protecting federal workers from being denied security clearances over marijuana.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) previewed his forthcoming legislation during a hearing on marijuana legalization that was held on Tuesday in a House Oversight subcommittee that he chairs. While the bill hasn’t been formally filed yet, he explained that it would tackle federal employment issues that remain unresolved under criminalization.
“We’ve got 2.85 million federal employees in America—in my state, more than 100,000 people,” Raskin said. “And people have been disqualified from federal employment because they honestly admit on a security clearance form that they have once used marijuana, something that more than half of the country has done.”
“I’ve had many constituents I’ve spoken to who have been chosen for a significant federal position after an exacting process of interview, who then are rejected in the security clearance process because they have admitted to having once used marijuana,” the congressman said.
This isn’t the first time that Raskin has raised the issue. Just before the House passed a marijuana legalization bill earlier this year, he 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.” That measure was narrowly defeated in a floor vote, however.
Now he said that he’s “going to be advancing” standalone legislation “to deal with that problem.”
The text of Raskin’s bill hasn’t yet been made available, so it’s not clear if the scope will only cover past cannabis use, for example, or if it would allow federal employees who live in states that have enacted legalization to continue using marijuana on their own time and still keep their security clearances.
Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
While the Biden administration instituted a policy last year authorizing waivers to be granted to certain workers who admit to prior cannabis use, Raskin said on Tuesday that “too often I’m hearing from people who tell me that it operates just like that as an automatic instant disqualifier for their employment.”
“This is obviously profoundly unfair to the individuals—but also it’s a tremendous waste of human talent and unnecessary stigmatization and demoralization of our own people,” he said. “This is one small aspect of a whole regime of injustice that has grown up around the war on marijuana.”
“Even in the states where it has been fully legalized, federal employees and applicants are still vulnerable to being fired or rejected from their jobs even for having used a medical marijuana prescription in a state where that’s lawful,” Raskin said in his opening statement at the hearing. “We should not be denying our constituents the opportunity to serve in federal office simply because they have used marijuana, as a majority of the country records that it has.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), the sponsor of a federal cannabis legalization bill and GOP ranking member on the Oversight subcommittee, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that she intends to co-sponsor the chairman’s marijuana employment bill, which Raskin separately announced at the hearing.
“I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” Mace said in the interview. “If I say I’m willing to work with you, I am. And I hope that that will happen in return.”
As Raskin delivered closing remarks at Tuesday’s hearing and announced his forthcoming bill, Mace could be seen writing a note and sliding it in front of the chairman, later pointing at it before he wrapped up. Raskin read it and smiled, and then announced that the GOP congresswoman would be supporting the federal worker legislation.
As part of advancing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Senate leaders sought to attach separate broader intelligence legislation that had included a provision preventing the denial of security clearances over cannabis which was approved by a Senate committee earlier this year.
But two GOP senators protested the inclusion of the marijuana language and it was consequently dropped from the measure, prompting the sponsor to separately file different, broader amendments on the issue.
One of the proposals from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) would prevent the denial of federal security clearances for people over cannabis use at any time, while the other would limit the protection only to people who admit to past use prior to entering national security vetting.
As more states have moved to legalize marijuana in some form, workplace cannabis policies have been under close scrutiny.
Earlier this year, the nation’s largest union representing federal employees adopted a resolution in support of marijuana legalization and calling for an end to policies that penalize federal workers who use cannabis responsibly while they’re off the clock in states where it is legal.
A federal marijuana legalization bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in July also contains a provision that would specifically prohibit federal employers from testing workers for cannabis, with certain exceptions for sensitive positions such as law enforcement and those involving national security.
But in general, federal agencies have been reluctant to loosen cannabis-related employment rules despite state efforts to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use.
For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently proposed a changes to drug testing policies for federal workers that would clarify that having a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana or any other Schedule I drug is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test.
Meanwhile, the director of national intelligence (DNI) said late last year that federal employers shouldn’t outright reject security clearance applicants over past use and should use discretion when it comes to those with cannabis investments in their stock portfolios.
FBI updated its hiring policies last year 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.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) also took a different approach to its cannabis policy in 2020, stating in a notice that it would not be testing drivers for CBD. However, DOT recently reiterated that the workforce it regulates is prohibited from using marijuana and will continue to be tested for THC, regardless of state cannabis policy.
Rep Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sent a letter to the head of DOT in May, stating that the agency’s policies on drug testing truckers and other commercial drivers for marijuana are unnecessarily costing people their jobs and contributing to supply chain issues.
The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) also emphasized to its workers that they are prohibited from using marijuana—or directly investing in the industry—no matter the state law or changes in “social norms” around cannabis.
While the Biden administration did institute a waiver policy meant to provide discretion as it relates to federal employment and past cannabis use, it’s come under fire from advocates following early reports that the White House fired or otherwise punished dozens of staffers who were honest about their history with marijuana.
Then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki attempted to minimize the fallout, without much success, and her office released a statement last year stipulating that nobody was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.