U.S. Lawmakers File Bill To Ease Federal Employment Restrictions On Cannabis Use

A new bill would prevent past and current cannabis use from being the sole grounds for denial of federal employment or a security clearance.
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A bipartisan pair of U.S. lawmakers last week introduced legislation to ease federal employment restrictions on cannabis use that deny employment opportunities for past and current marijuana users. The bill, titled the Cannabis Users Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act, was introduced on July 27 by Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina who has been an outspoken supporter of federal cannabis policy reform.

“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,” Raskin said in a statement on Friday. “I am proud to partner with my friend Representative Mace to introduce the bipartisan CURE Act that will eliminate the draconian, failed and obsolete marijuana policies that prevent talented individuals from becoming honorable public servants in their own government.”

If passed, the CURE Act would prevent past or current marijuana use from being the basis for an applicant being found unsuitable for federal employment or the denial of a security clearance for federal workers. The legislation would also be applied retroactively, allowing workers or applicants who have been denied employment or a security clearance to appeal such denials.

“For too long, the federal government has been denying Americans civil service opportunities solely because of its outdated attitudes toward cannabis and those who consume it,” said Morgan Fox, political director at the cannabis policy reform group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Denying these millions of Americans consideration for employment and security clearances is discriminatory and it unnecessarily shrinks the talent pool available for these important jobs. NORML commends the sponsors for working to undo this policy and replace it with fair and sensible hiring and clearance practices that will put America on much stronger footing on the global stage.”

Bill Endorsed By Justice Groups

The CURE Act has been endorsed by justice reform advocates and cannabis industry groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, the Due Process Institute, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), NORML and the U.S. Cannabis Council.

“Millions of patriotic, conscientious Americans use cannabis legally each year, but they are consistently penalized by outdated federal regulations,” said Ed Conklin, executive director of the U.S. Cannabis Council. “We strongly support the CURE Act because it will bring federal employment policies into line with the views of most Americans. Cannabis use should never prevent a qualified candidate from serving his or her country as a federal employee.”

The bipartisan bill is not the first effort to ease employment discrimination against cannabis users seeking a job with the federal government. In 2021, the federal Office of Personnel Management, an agency that sets “suitability” standards to determine whether an individual is fit to serve in a federal position, issued new guidance to clarify that past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify applicants or appointees from most U.S. government jobs. However, the agency emphasized that marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Additionally, the Drug-Free Workplace executive order of 1986 requires federal employees to refrain from using illegal drugs at all times.

“An individual’s disregard of federal law pertaining to marijuana while employed by the federal government remains relevant and may lead to disciplinary action,” the OPM wrote in the 2021 memo. “It is important to note that it is also the policy of the federal government to offer appropriate prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs and services for federal civilian employees with drug problems.”

Also in 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which sets security standards for access to classified information, issued new guidance to clarify that past marijuana use should not be the sole reason someone is denied a security clearance. The guidance stresses that the illegal use of any controlled substances “can raise security concerns about an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness to access classified information or to hold a sensitive position, as well as their ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules, and regulations.”

However, the guidelines also instruct agencies that prior recreational marijuana use by an individual “may be relevant to adjudications but not determinative” in issuing a security clearance. The guidance references a 2017 security directive that tells agencies to apply the “whole person concept” to the decision for granting a security clearance.

“There are many talented and dedicated people who have used cannabis and want to serve their country,” said Terry Blevins, a former civilian investigator for the Department of Defense, Arizona police sergeant, and LEAP board member. “Compromising recruitment by our federal agencies with antiquated cannabis laws makes our nation less safe in the face of security threats we face globally.”

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