With change seemingly on the horizon for federal drug policy, the Director of National Intelligence is emphasizing that until any new laws or policies are issued, a 2014 memo on federal drug policies remains the governing principle for national security workers who face the conflicting guidance of state and federal drug laws.
When the ODNI memo was issued in 2014, just two states – Colorado and Washington – had legalized federal drug use. Today, recreational use of cannabis is legal in 17 states, as well as the District of Columbia. But the wave of states taking legislative action has not changed federal employment policies, particularly those in the intelligence community. DNI emphasizes until new guidance is issued, it is unlawful to be a user of a controlled substance, which includes marijuana.
MORE Marijuana, More Clearance Problems
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is expected to be reintroduced and it would not only remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs, but also change the name from marijuana to ‘cannabis’ wherever the drug is mentioned. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already signaled he’s on board for Congress to make major moves on drug reform this year. All of that policy signaling doesn’t mean federal workers should rush to their local dispensary, and national security leaders, in particular, are urging caution.
“We’re reiterating the federal drug free workplace,” noted Valerie Kerben, senior security advisor for the special security directorate at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, speaking at a briefing for clearance reform and policy advisors last week. She emphasized that a 2014 memo from the Director of National Intelligence on federal drug policies in light of state law changes still stands – and all national security workers and federal employees should still be following the 2014 guidance and abstaining from any drug use – even in states which have legalized it. That doesn’t mean changes couldn’t come in the future, however.
“We’re considering putting out clarifying guidance, and also monitoring legislation,” Kerben emphasized.
For National Security Workers, ‘Legalizing’ Drug Use Will Take More than Legislation
Even if drugs were made legal at the federal level, drug involvement remains an adjudicative guideline and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) would need to change the existing policy before security clearance holders should feel free to partake in drugs. Granted, it is highly likely that if the federal law changed, the adjudicative criteria would soon follow, or executive orders or correspondence would clarify the change. But it’s worth noting that while congress has the purview to change federal laws, it is the White House who has the purview to change security clearance policy. If federal drug laws change, national security workers should not flee to their nearest dispensary to take advantage of their new-found legal authority.
Federal government workers should also keep in mind their individual agency or company policies may continue to preclude drug use, even if legislative action were to change. The coming year may usher in new laws concerning drug use, but until those laws become agency policies, all Federal government employees should continue to say no – whether it’s a toke or an edible being offered.
Past Drug Use Shouldn’t Crush Your Government Career Dreams
Contrary to popular belief as evidenced by the angst of many security clearance applicants, past drug use does not prevent obtaining a security clearance. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to drug use—even recent drug use. While policy guidelines used to caveat that one to two years of abstinence was advisable prior to applying for a security clearance, this is one area where changes in state laws are somewhat favorable to today’s security clearance applicants. Security clearance adjudicators today appear much more interested in how applicants have separated themselves from drug culture or other users. Even if an individual has used drugs in the (somewhat) recent past—that’s not a clearance killer.
Agency matters when it comes to recent drug use, however. In addition to the adjudicative criteria for obtaining a security clearance, each agency has its own suitability guidelines for applicants and employees. What the State Department will allow in terms of recency of drug use is obviously different than what the Drug Enforcement Administration allows.