The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE) was passed by the House of Representatives in December and is waiting for action in the Senate, and the bill could mean major changes for security clearance processing. The proposed bill says no person may be declined a federal public benefit or a security clearance based on use or possession of cannabis or on the conviction of a cannabis offense. It also allows for automatic expungement of certain federal marijuana convictions.

Many predict that it will pass the Senate and signed by the current administration later this year. What effect this will have, other than the obvious increase in the government’s pool of applicants, remains to be seen. How will it affect the government-contracting world, so intertwined with both academia and diverse industry these days? Will it cause those who were previously denied a security clearance because of marijuana use to try again? Will it have an impact on DoD accession standards and guidance? Will Cheech and Chong and Harold and Kumar be entitled to reparations, when they could have been working for the CIA all along?

Background of Marijuana in the U.S.

The history of marijuana use and regulation in this country is long and interesting, especially as it relates to the military. U.S. Army soldiers engaged in combat with Pancho Villa’s troops along the Mexican border were allegedly regular users of cannabis according to many sources. The use became more widespread in the building of the Panama Canal in the early 1930s, which prompted a study on the effect of the drug by the U.S. Surgeon General. The study itself – while it is easy to cherry pick lines to support an argument – was inconclusive. From that point on, ranging from laws that taxed it to more studies and commissions to the Vietnam War (where marijuana use amongst troops was estimated to be as high as 40%), the wacky weed found itself planted firmly on the list of Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act next to heroin and other opiates. While that brief history has some noteworthy elements amongst the uniformed services, a more pressing issue worth watching is the consequences, or lack thereof, on government contractors in the tech sector.

Elon’s Toke Drew Attention to a Growing Problem

Elon Musk drew attention to the marijuana/security clearance issue when he took a toke while live-streaming on Joe Rogan’s podcast in September 2018. As he is heavily involved with the government space program, this public inhale caused him to refile his security clearance paperwork. As he did that, a macro problem emerged. The U.S. government, especially the DoD and the Department of Homeland Security, rely heavily on the tech sector for research and development, intelligence fusion and creating policy and law. When looking at some of the top tech sector states, such as Washington, California, Massachusetts, and New York, as well as the District of Columbia, it is interesting to note, all of them have legalized recreational marijuana use.

Passage of the MORE Act could quickly make entrance into the government contracting sector, but it may be a slower go for many federal agencies and for DoD service members. In addition to changing legislation, cultural norms and application of the adjudicative criteria could make it difficult for recent drug users to pass the application and adjudication hurdle. In addition, service members will likely have their own prohibitions on drug use maintained even as more recent drug users find doors to federal employment.

In the coming months it will be worth noting how both the government and tech companies respond to the MORE Act, Given that many tech companies have a high number of employees involved with government contracts or projects, is it too far of a reach that many of those employees share the commonality of recreational marijuana use and a security clearance? Continuous Evaluation is designed to catch the kind of information that isn’t self reported, but unless random drug testing is in play or recreational drug use results in an arrest, there may be employees out there already who are toking up. This question should come up during senate deliberations on the matter. If and when it does, all eyes ought to be on this discussion. It will be must watch C-SPAN.

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Joe Jabara, JD, is the Director, of the Hub, For Cyber Education and Awareness, Wichita State University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty at two other universities teaching Intelligence and Cyber Law. Prior to his current job, he served 30 years in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Kansas Air National Guard. His last ten years were spent in command/leadership positions, the bulk of which were at the 184th Intelligence Wing as Vice Commander.