Debate in Congress on Wednesday about a bill that would block prior cannabis use from playing into federal security clearances devolved into one about federal cannabis prohibition.
Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability met for a markup on several bills, including the Cannabis Users Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act. The committee voted on Wednesday to advance the bill.
Proponents of the bill argued on Wednesday that it is those who are most honest that are most at risk.
“Thousands of our constituents every year are being denied federal security clearance, or losing the chance of obtaining federal employment solely because they admit honestly to having used marijuana in the past, even if and when it was completely lawful for them to do that,” Rep. Jamie Raskin said.
Raskin told the story of a constituent who was one week away from his official start date for a job with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which, Raskin said, he was “exceptionally well qualified for.” Then, days before starting, he was “dumbfounded and shocked” to learn that he failed the background check for admitting medical cannabis use under the direction of his doctor.
The CURE Act, if passed, would allow this constituent to have his denial reviewed.
“It’s crazy to me that if you didn’t want to get addicted to painkillers like opioids prescribed by your doctor and you wanted to take a few gummies for that pain, that you would be prohibited from getting a clearance in a federal job,” Rep. Nancy Mace, a co-sponsor of the bill, said during the markup on Wednesday. “And we need common sense solutions on cannabis in this country.”
The debate about the CURE Act on Wednesday quickly reflected broader conversations about cannabis reform happening in Congress and at the federal level. President Joe Biden called, in October, for a review of how the federal government classifies cannabis. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended that cannabis be moved from Schedule I, the most restrictive category, where it has been for more than fifty years, to Schedule III. And, a recent Congressional Research Service report indicates that the Drug Enforcement Administration, which can either agree with or reject the recommendation, is likely to follow suit, as Cannabis Wire reported.
“This legislation,” Rep. Mike Turner said, is “requiring issuance of clearances to individuals who may have knowingly violated an existing federal law.”
“Let’s be clear,” he continued. “When people say that it is legal, that it is perfectly legal, it is not legal. It is still a federal law and it is still a federal crime.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly spoke about the roots of cannabis prohibition, calling the history “ugly.”
“If you listen to the White House tapes during the Nixon years, the origins of classifying this as the most dangerous drug in the world were racist,” Connolly said. “We made this the most dangerous drug in terms of classification without a single scientific study to justify it.”
The conversation then shifted to whether cannabis is safer than alcohol, and Raskin noted that people who drank during prohibition were not barred from federal service after the passage of the 18th amendment.
Rep. Pete Sessions pointed out that the conversation had strayed outside the scope of the language of the bill.
“The underlying legislation seems to be a reaction to societal shifts regarding the acceptance of marijuana use, increased usage, and corresponding shrinkage of potential applicants for federal jobs,” Sessions said. “I want to be clear this should not be a debate about the legalization of marijuana. Today is about a national standard that we would establish for those who want to claim this security clearance.”
This story has been updated.