Senate Intelligence Committee Approves of Giving People Who Smoked Weed Security Clearance

“It’s a common-sense change."
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Image: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate Intelligence Committee passed a provision that would prevent national security agencies from disqualifying applicants based on past marijuana use. 

The provision, which says that security clearance cannot be denied based solely on the use of cannabis, was approved in the Senate Intel Committee on Wednesday as part of the 2023 Intelligence Authorization Act.  

A spokesperson from the U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore.’s office, who authored the provision, said he “believes the amendment is a win for national security and personal freedom, by allowing the intelligence agencies to recruit the most capable people possible, rather than ruling out applicants based on past cannabis use.” 

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The bill will now head to the Senate floor to be introduced to the House Intelligence Committee. If the bill passes, it will open up doors for many talented cybersecurity applicants, who were previously turned away due to marijuana use. 

This measure marks a significant progression from 2014, when then-FBI director James B. Comey apologized to senators after telling them that restrictions on marijuana have to be loosened in order to keep up with the cybersecurity workforce. 

“A lot of the nation’s top computer programmers and hacking gurus are also fond of marijuana,” Comey said. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.” 

Though Comey later said he was only joking, his statements preceded the shift in attitude towards marijuana. Since 2012, 38 states have legalized medical use of marijuana and 19 states have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana. 

Senator Wyden is also leading the movement towards legalizing marijuana at the federal level alongside Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY. and Cory Booker, D-NJ. The three of them have drafted the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which would remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances.   

Public opinion has also shifted towards supporting the legalization of marijuana. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center poll, 91 percent of U.S. adults say that marijuana should be legal, with 60 percent in support of medical and recreational use, and 31 percent in support of medical use only. 

Senator Wyden’s new measure may be one solution to the federal government’s shortage of talent in the cybersecurity field. A 2021 report from Emsi found that the federal government loses nearly one out of every five cybersecurity workers every year and the U.S. faces approximately a 359,000 person workforce gap in cybersecurity. 

“It’s a common-sense change to ensure the IC can recruit the most capable people possible,” Senator Wyden said in a press release.