Congress considers loosening marijuana bans for federal workers as states roll

Recreational marijuana’s strong victory in red-state Ohio last week means legalized cannabis will soon be available to more than half the U.S. population. But current and potential federal employees and contractors are not allowed to indulge, no matter where they live.

Despite the steady legalization among states since 2012 and a Gallup poll released this month showing approval from a record 70 percent of Americans, marijuana possession remains a federal crime and a major impediment to federal employment. There is hope, however, for those who use cannabis for medical reasons or just to get high.

The outside-the-Beltway developments have drawn increased attention to little-noticed, bipartisan congressional legislation approved with a 30-14 vote in September by the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The Cannabis Users Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act would prohibit federal employers from using prior — but not current — marijuana consumption as grounds for blocking federal employment or security clearances. Democrats were unanimous in their support, while Republicans split, with 14 voting no and 10 voting yes.

While there’s no guarantee that the quickly increasing public support for legalized cannabis will result in quick CURE action by Congress, “there is certainly more justification for it being fast-tracked now that there are millions more potential federal job applicants who could be disqualified from gainful employment in the civil service for behavior that will be lawful very soon,” said Morgan Fox, political director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Lawmakers generally have been taking notice and being more vocal about their support for incremental and comprehensive reforms.”

Diane Goldstein, executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, urged members of Congress to heed the “resounding rejection of our nation’s long history of criminalization,” and “align with their constituents by promptly passing the CURE Act, which will ensure the federal government no longer disqualifies promising candidates simply because of marijuana use.” LEAP, an organization of law enforcement professionals, advocates for criminal justice and drug policy reforms.

This is personal for one lawmaker, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of the bill. She didn’t need the vote in Ohio or approval from other Republicans to push for easing restrictions against cannabis use. Unlike others at a meeting about the bill, Mace spoke about being raped at age 16 and using a prescribed antidepressant that “made me want to kill myself.”

Then she turned to marijuana. “Cannabis saved my life,” she added. “And anyone that was in the same position that I was should not be penalized for using something that has saved their life.”

Mace also quoted Harry Anslinger, the first director, in 1930, of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration. He used racism against “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers” to justify marijuana prohibition, according to a National Library…

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