GOP Committee Chairman Seeks To Scale Back Bill On Removing Federal Marijuana Employment Barriers Ahead Of This Week’s Vote

September 19, 2023 · marijuanamoment.net

The chairman of a key House committee is proposing to significantly scale back a bipartisan bill on marijuana-related protections for federal workers that’s scheduled for a vote in his panel this week.

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is scheduled to hold a markup of the Cannabis Users’ Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act—sponsored by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)—on Wednesday. But ahead of that meeting, Chairman James Comer (R-KY) says he will be filing an amendment in the nature of a substitute (ANS) that would eliminate some of the bill central provisions.

As introduced, the legislation would make it so “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.

Comer’s amendment, however, would remove language concerning “current” use, restricting the employment protections only to people who admit to previously using marijuana while allowing federal agencies to continue refusing to employ or issue security clearances to current cannabis consumers.

The purpose of the chairman’s ANS is to “ensure this legislation is consistent with most federal agencies’ default policy and just applies to prior marijuana use,” a committee spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Monday.

“This codifies emerging federal policy regarding how to treat prior marijuana use when determining suitability for a security clearance or Federal employment and clarifies the hiring process for the many young, technically-capable applicants that are currently dissuaded from applying to government jobs due to conflicting and confusing policies,” the spokesperson said.

Mace, for her part, “plans to support the chairman’s ANS,” her office told Marijuana Moment on Monday. Raskin’s staff did not return a request for comment by publication time.

It is possible that other members of the committee could file additional amendments to the bill, but none have been publicly posted yet.

Under the legislation as currently drafted, within one year of enactment, all federal agencies would also 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.

Agencies 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.”

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.

In July, the Senate approved legislation 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 last year 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 (NDAA) on the floor if it included the marijuana language.

Passage of the CURE Act through the House Oversight Committee, meanwhile, would mark a significant win for advocates who have seen multiple cannabis reform measures blocked from House floor consideration by the Rules Committee under GOP control.

This month, that panel prevented two amendments aimed at preventing marijuana testing of federal job applicants from being considered as part of a large-scale defense bill, for example. However, amendments on promoting psychedelics research were made in order for the floor.

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) also proposed an amendment to a spending bill for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon/VA) earlier this year that would have similarly prohibited the use of funds for cannabis drug testing. It was not allowed to advance to the floor, though bipartisan lawmakers have cheered the House’s passage of the underlying legislation that included separate marijuana and psychedelics measures.

One of those House-passed amendments would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans, and the other would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.

More than a dozen marijuana and psychedelics amendments to the House version of the NDAA were blocked by the Rules Committee in July. That includes a measure introduced by Garcia that would have prevented security clearance denials for federal workers over prior cannabis use.

The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) 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 U.S. Secret Service (USSS) 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 (ATF) 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.

FBI updated its hiring policies in 2020 to make it so candidates are only automatically disqualified from joining the agency if they admit to having used marijuana within one year of applying. Previously, prospective employees of the agency could not have used cannabis within the past three years.

Former FBI Director James Comey in 2014 suggested that he wanted to loosen the agency’s employment policies as it concerns 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, CIA 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 (OPM) 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 admit to prior marijuana use, but certain lawmakers have pushed for additional reform.

A recent survey found that 30 percent of those 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.

Some attorneys also believe that if the Drug Enforcement Administration reschedules marijuana, as the Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended, that could push federal agencies to further review their employee drug policies.

Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee vote on the CURE Act will be the first of two markups of marijuana reform legislation this month alone. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to vote on a bipartisan cannabis banking bill on September 27 before potentially advancing it to the floor. (Full Story)

In categories:Federal Policy Labor
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