In a new memo, Avril Haines, director of National Intelligence, stated that federal employers should be discrete when it comes to individuals with marijuana investments in their stock portfolios and shouldn’t flatly reject security clearance applicants over past use of marijuana.
Haines stated that even with more states legalizing cannabis across the country, its use by individuals in positions that required national security clearance remained an area of concern, noting that the herb’s use should be considered in the application process. She explained that the illegal use of the controlled substance could raise security concerns about a person’s trustworthiness and reliability to hold a sensitive position or access classified information, as well as their willingness or ability to comply with regulations, rules and laws.
The internal memo, which was distributed to almost 100 agencies in December 2021 appears to give some leeway on this, stating that while an individual’s past use of cannabis and federal law on cannabis remain relevant, they shouldn’t be the sole determinant on the decision of an individual’s eligibility to hold a sensitive position or access classified information.
This is a major policy development as there has generally been an abstinence requirement for prospective federal workers who require security clearance at different agencies of one to two years.
Haines notes that the policy may be amended further in the future if a change to federal law concerning cannabis use is made. The memo adds that in the meantime, federal employment adjudicators should explore other factors outside the past use of cannabis to determine whether that particular concern should determine an individual’s employment eligibility. These factors may include the likelihood that the person will continue using cannabis and their frequency of consumption.
A spokesperson from the Director of National Intelligence’s office recently revealed that increased legalization of cannabis at the local and state levels had raised questions on how the federal government treated a person’s involvement with cannabis to determine eligibility to access classified information and for national security positions.
With regard to marijuana-related investments, this new memo stated that eligibility to hold a sensitive position or access classified information may be negatively impacted should a person directly and knowingly invest in business ventures or stocks that relate to cannabis retailers and growers, because the growing and distribution of cannabis remains illegal under federal law. The memo notes that despite this, individuals who didn’t invest in the marijuana space knowingly shouldn’t be penalized automatically. It adds that adjudicators should assume that the person didn’t knowingly invest in a cannabis-related business for indirect cannabis investments.
This guidance is likely to bring some relief to individuals who were hesitant to invest in cannabis or cannabis-related companies such as Simply Sonoma Inc. for fear of being penalized by the federal government.
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