Security Clearance Can’t Be Denied for Intelligence Agency Employees, According to Senate Committee

Those who apply for intelligence agency jobs with the FBI, CIA, or NSA can’t be denied security clearance because of past cannabis use.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence passed the FY24 Intelligence Authorization Act in a 17-0 vote on June 14, which includes a provision that prevents discrimination or denial of jobs in government intelligence agencies.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden, a senior member of the committee. “This bill includes historic bipartisan legislation reforming the country’s broken classification and declassification system,” said Wyden in a press release. “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 [intelligence community] can recruit the most capable people possible. Finally, the bill includes critically important provisions to protect Intelligence Community whistleblowers.”

Previously in June 2022, Wyden filed an amendment that “prohibited any Federal agency from denying or revoking an individual’s eligibility for access to classified information solely because of past or present use of cannabis” last year. A second-degree amendment reduced to only intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and National Security Agency (NSA). The original text which described “past or present use” was changed to “pre-employment.”

Later in September 2022, Wyden’s proposal was met with opposition from Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. John Cornyn who objected to its inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

According to Chairman Mark Warner, the FY24 Intelligence Authorization Act “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.”

On March 8, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines addressed the need for security clearance inclusions. “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 at the hearing.

“We obviously believe that we want to have the talent that exists in America—and when somebody is using it [cannabis] experimentally in a legal state that’s something that shouldn’t on its own essentially disqualify,” Haines continued. “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 discussion of security clearance for cannabis users goes further back to a memo from Haines in January 2022, following up from guidance signed in December 2021.

Other federal agencies have addressed cannabis consumption as well. 

Back in 2014, former FBI Director James Comey suggested that the agency should consider loosening employment rules for cannabis. “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,” Comey said, according to an interview with Wall Street Journal.

The FBI originally disqualified any applicants of they had consumed cannabis within the past three years of their application. Now as of July 2021, the rule applies to cannabis use within one year.

In March, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revised its rules so that anyone who has legally cultivated, manufactured or sold cannabis would still be considered for a job. However, those who did so in violation of state law would be disqualified.

In May, the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) updated its rules on cannabis use for applicants, stating that those who have used hemp-derived CBD products within one year prior to their application would be reviewed “on a case-by-case basis by adjudicative personnel.” Previously, the USSS based its rules around age, where 24 years or younger could apply after one year free of cannabis consumption, but 28 and older would not be eligible for at least five years after consumption.

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