Marijuana is a small plant with many names. As recreational use of the drug becomes legal and more socially widespread, it’s also gotten a bit of a rebranding. Users are no longer “stoners;” peddlers once known as “drug dealers” are just “investors in the cannabis industry.” Things like CBD oil and cannabis-laced gummy bears are hitting the shelves of your local drug stores. The drug that once inspired fear-mongering propaganda like the 1936 movie Reefer Madness is shaking off its taboo status – becoming a darling of investors and entrepreneurs.
But can security clearance holders invest in marijuana and cannabis-based products? That’s one of the questions users recently posed to the ClearanceJobs Blog. The user heard that a security clearance applicant received an SOR stating investment in the cannabis business as a cause for rejecting their security clearance:
I recently received notice that a person received an SOR [Statement of Reasons] based on their investment in a company growing/producing marijuana. Per ODNI policy, this is considered a violation of adjudicative guideline H, drug involvement. Are investigators asking interviewees questions regarding their financial investments now? Or, is this something that comes up in a background check?
Seems like the former. Any info – and policy, if there is one – would be helpful. Thanks!
the government doesn’t like sketchy investments in general
It’s possible that this information came up in the process of a background investigation, but as one responder noted, it seems most likely that any investments in the cannabis industry were self-volunteered by the candidate in question. It’s hard to say that the candidate was “right” to volunteer this information if it resulted in the denial of his clearance. However, if he did not reveal it, and it came up in the course of the investigation, he could potentially be denied on the grounds both of his cannabis investment and less-than-truthful responses about drug use or involvement.
But cannabis isn’t the only non-traditional investment that the federal government doesn’t quite know what to do with. For example, policy on clearance holders investing in bitcoin has been very nebulous. The federal government is not on the cutting edge of entrepreneurial investments. A good rule of thumb: If you want to know what kind of investments won’t draw adjudicator attention, ask, “Would my grandma invest in this?”
Adjudicative guidelines prohibit not only drug use, but drug involvement
Another point to keep in mind is that regardless of changing cultural mores or legal status at the state level, marijuana is illegal at the federal level and, therefore, forbidden for clearance holders. In fact, it is a Schedule 1 drug, in the same class as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. You may disagree with that judgment, but that’s still the law.
What’s more, investments in the sticky world of weed might suggest to adjudicators a lack of good judgment. Security clearance attorney and ClearanceJobs contributor spells out well the risk security clearance holders take with investments in the cannabis industry:
Under the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances, drug involvement– including cultivation, processing, manufacture, purchase, or distribution – is a potentially disqualifying condition. That’s right: there is no requirement that the individual actually partake in his or her own party.
Similarly, the Guidelines at sections “E” and “J” may disqualify from holding a security clearance those who exhibit poor judgment or engage in criminal activity; the federal government certainly considers the flagrant violations of its laws to implicate both categories of issues. As far as the feds are concerned, state efforts to legalize marijuana are irrelevant under constitutional principles of federalism.
As National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) Director William Evanina stated in a recent press briefing with ClearanceJobs, the drug use or involvement standard may be reconsidered in the future. But for now, I would heed the words of Bigley, “For those whose day job is conditioned on maintaining a government-issued security clearance, the road to leafy riches is fraught with peril.”
So when it comes to investing in cannabis, clearance holder, take Nancy Reagan’s advice: just say no.
Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains ClearanceJobsBlog.com – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum.
If you have a tough security clearance question, you can post your questions or concerns on ClearanceJobsBlog.com.