Bill Launched to Ban Federal Hiring Discrimination Over Cannabis Use

July 28, 2023

Bipartisan lawmakers in Congress have filed a bill to protect people from being denied federal employment or security clearances due to marijuana use—and to provide relief for people who lost opportunities due to cannabis in the past.

Rep. Jamin Raskin (D-MD) introduced the legislation—titled the “Cannabis Users’ Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act”—on July 27, months after first previewing plans to advance the reform. It’s being cosponsored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who signaled her interest in partnering with Raskin at a House Oversight subcommittee hearing last year, when the congressman announced his intent to act on the issue.

The bill says that “current or past use of marijuana by a covered person may not be used in any determination with respect to whether such person” is eligible for a security clearance or otherwise suitable for federal employment under existing code.

“The federal government has not caught up with the widely established legal use of cannabis.”

“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 July 27 press release. “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.”

Within one year of enactment, all federal agencies would be required to create a process to review each past decision to deny security clearances or job opportunities over cannabis use going back to January 1, 2008, the bill says. They would need to maintain a website so that people could request a review of a decision made in their situation, and the agency would need to “reconsider such individual’s security clearance or employment application” within 90 days if they find that they were denied because of marijuana use alone.

If that person is still denied clearance or employment following the agency’s reconsideration, they would have 30 days to appeal that decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The board would then need to review the case within 120 days, and if it determines that marijuana use was the basis of the denial, it would need to “order the Federal agency to immediately redetermine the individual’s request for reconsideration.”

“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 of 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,” he said.

DPA is “excited to support legislation that can help end another pillar of the drug war and allow individuals to secure work.”

Maritza Perez Medina, director of the Office of Federal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said that her organization is “excited to support legislation that can help end another pillar of the drug war and allow individuals to secure work.”

“Penalizing someone for drug use relies on an assumption that any drug use is problematic and that people who use drugs cannot be responsible employees,” she said. “We know this is false. We hope this bill is just the start of other critical federal marijuana reforms.”

The CURE Act represents an expansion of an amendment that Raskin filed as part of a House-passed cannabis legalization bill last year. That measure would have only covered security clearances, instead of also including overall employment decisions as is the case under the new legislation. However, the retroactivity would have required a review of denials going back further, to 1971, instead of 2008. The amendment was narrowly defeated on the House floor.

“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 US 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.”

On the Senate side, the Intelligence Committee approved an amendment to an oversight bill last month that would prevent intelligence agencies from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed a broader amendment to last year’s version of the authorization legislation that would have prevented employment discrimination based on prior or present cannabis use at any federal department, not just those dealing with intelligence.

But the provision was scaled back under a second-degree amendment from the panel’s chairman before being adopted by the committee. And then the reform was ultimately quashed when two GOP senators objected to attaching the broader bill to the National Defense Authorization Act on the floor if it included the marijuana language.

A recent survey found 30 percent of people aged of 18 and 30 have declined to apply or withdrawn applications for federal jobs because of strict marijuana policies.

The director of national intelligence issued a memo in 2021 saying that federal employers shouldn’t outright reject security clearance applicants over past use, and should also use discretion when it comes to those with cannabis investments in their stock portfolios.

Meanwhile, the United States Secret Service recently updated its employment policy to be more accommodating to applicants who’ve previously used marijuana, making it so candidates of any age become eligible one year after they last consumed cannabis. Previously, there were stricter age-based restrictions.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has also revised its cannabis rules for job applicants. Applicants who’ve grown, manufactured or sold marijuana in compliance with state laws while serving in a “position of public responsibility” will no longer be automatically disqualified.

In 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation updated its hiring policies so candidates are only automatically disqualified from joining the agency if they disclose having used marijuana within one year of applying. Previously, prospective employees could not have used cannabis within the past three years.

Former FBI Director James Comey suggested in 2014 that he wanted to loosen the agency’s employment policies around marijuana, as potential skilled workers were being passed over due to the requirement.

“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,” he said at the time.

Also in 2020, the Central Intelligence Agency said that it doesn’t necessarily believe using illegal drugs makes you a bad person.

Late last year, draft documents obtained by Marijuana Moment showed that the federal Office of Personnel Management was proposing to replace a series of job application forms for prospective workers, in a way that would treat past cannabis use much more leniently than under current policy.

The Biden administration instituted a policy in 2021 authorizing waivers to be granted to certain workers who disclose prior marijuana use, but some lawmakers have pushed for additional reform.

A recent survey found that 30 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 30 have either declined to apply or withdrawn applications for federal jobs because of strict marijuana policies required for security clearances.



Photograph by Terrance Barksdale via Pexels

This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, previously received a restricted grant from DPA to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.

Kyle Jaeger

Kyle is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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