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News, Politics

Senate Panel Votes to Let People Who’ve Used Marijuana Work at Intelligence Agencies Like CIA and NSA

Mary Ekundayo

by Mary Ekundayo

July 17, 2023 12:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Senate Panel Votes to Let People Who’ve Used Marijuana Work at Intelligence Agencies Like CIA and NSA

The Senate Intelligence Committee has passed a bill that allows intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA to accept applicants who have marijuana-use history. The FY24 Intelligence Authorization Act was approved after it secured a unified vote of 17-0 on June 14, 2023. Marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 23 U.S. states, including Washington, D.C. This bill is a progressive step as it clearly states that intelligence organizations cannot deny aspirants security clearance because they have used cannabis in the past.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee. According to him, ‘This bill includes bipartisan legislation reforming the country’s broken classification and declassification system. In a press release, he further explained, “The bill also includes my provision to ensure that cannabis use will not disqualify intelligence community aspirants 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.”

What Happened Back in 2022?

Earlier in June 2022, Wyden had filed an amendment to prevent unfair employment restrictions because of past or current cannabis use in all federal agencies. He called it a common-sense change to ensure the IC can recruit the most capable people possible. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Sen. Kristen from New Mexico and New York, respectively, also supported the bill.

The legislation “prohibited any Federal agency from denying or revoking an individual’s eligibility for access to classified information solely because of the past or present use of cannabis.” A second-degree revision reduced it to only intelligence communities like the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The initial “past or present use” text was also modified to “pre-employment.”

In September 2022, Wyden’s motion was opposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. John Cornyn. Because of this opposition, it was not included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

More Information About the Legislation

The committee stated that the details of the newly reformed bill won’t be accessible until it has been approved by legislative counsel. However, Wyden hinted that what was passed is similar to 2022’s narrowly tailored proposal. It seems that the bill met a progressive stance within the Senate. The committee chair, Mark Warner (D), mentioned that the legislation would boost the efforts to amend the security clearance process. He also noted that it would enable the intelligence community to employ diverse and skilled personnel to help tackle emerging issues. 

At a March committee hearing, Wyden had earlier discussed the situation with Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). She stated, “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.” She further explained that marijuana use in a legal state should not be the only disqualifying basis. She also emphasized the necessity of a holistic approach in assessing candidates.

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Past Progress

National security personnel has severally mentioned in the past that the lifetime restriction on marijuana use has limited the number of qualified applicants in their agencies. And that the need to take in tech and cybersecurity experts is a priority for the community.

In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) expressed its concern and loosened its hiring guidelines relative to cannabis use. The update stated that “Candidates cannot have used marijuana or cannabis in any form (natural or synthetic) and in any location (domestic or foreign) within the one (1) year preceding the date of their application for employment.” The revision downgraded the initial three-year withdrawal period to one year.

With more people being open to legalization than ever, there have been positive modifications to past restrictions. The U.S. Secret Service (USSS) revised its employment policies. Candidates of any age who have used cannabis are eligible within 12 months of their last consumption. 

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) also updated its marijuana rules for applicants. Persons who have sold or manufactured cannabis in obedience to state laws while holding a ‘position of public responsibility’ are eligible for recruitment.

In 2020, the CIA voiced its stance that using marijuana and other drugs doesn’t necessarily make a person bad or unworthy. Also in 2021, Biden’s administration granted waivers to certain workers who acknowledge past marijuana use.

Moving Forward

A recent study revealed that 30% of federal job aspirants between ages 18 and 30 have either withdrawn or declined their applications because of the strict cannabis restriction needed for security clearance. However, with the FY24 Intelligence Authorization Act in motion, things are expected to change. 

The legislation is waiting to pass through the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate floor for approval.

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