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At a time when employees are fighting for the right to use medical marijuana and recreational marijuana during their off-hours, there’s one area of employment that hasn’t changed: jobs with the nation’s intelligence agencies that require a security clearance. These agencies view the current use of marijuana—or, in some cases, even past use of marijuana—as reasons to disqualify people from holding a security clearance.
The policy applies even if people work in a state where marijuana is legalized for recreational and medical use—or in Washington DC, which has legalized both.
No cannabis clearance for those with national security clearance
In an unclassified memo released in late 2021, Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, directly addressed the use of illegal drugs for those who have clearance to know our nation’s secrets. Or, at least, some of our nation’s secrets. There are three levels of security clearance: confidential, secret, and top secret. There’s also a separate category called Specialized Compartmented Information (SCI).
You can’t hold any level of clearance if you use marijuana. In his memo, Haines encouraged all agencies to “remind civilian, military and contractor personnel” who are granted access to classified information about the use of drugs that are illegal under federal law.
Marijuana remains a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level. In his memo, Haines touched on some other concerns, as well.
“The illegal use or misuse of 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,” he wrote. “Drug involvement may raise similar concerns about personal and criminal conduct.”
Even past use is an issue
In his memo, Haines also writes that past use of marijuana may be “relevant” to determine if someone is security clearance material but not “determinative.” Among the factors considered are the frequency of use and “whether the individual can demonstrate that future use is unlikely to recur, including by signing an attestation or other such appropriate mitigation,” Haines wrote.
In reviewing the memo and the issue of marijuana, Government Executive put it plainly: “Anyone who indicates an intent to continue using illegal drugs in the future – including marijuana – will be disqualified from holding a security clearance.”
The ban on using marijuana also extends to hemp-derived CBD products. The U.S. Congress made hemp products legal if they contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the chemical ingredient in cannabis that causes the high. However, the position of the national intelligence community is that some products may contain more than 0.3 percent, making them illegal for use, as well.
Additionally, those who aspire to security clearance jobs shouldn’t invest in stocks or business ventures that pertain to marijuana growers and retailers. According to Government Executive, those doing so could find that their “adjudicative determination may be negatively impacted.”
The website Clearinghouse Jobs reports that the Department of Defense also is cracking down on employees and contractors who use marijuana if they formerly had a security clearance that is no longer active.
The website reports that they are doing so under the theory that applicants knew during security briefings in the years before that marijuana use is still federally illegal. They added: “This new hardline stance, which boils down to “you should have known better,” is a curious approach at a time when both societal norms and the Biden Administration seem to be moving in the opposite direction.”