Smoked Ambitions: Federal Marijuana Policies Stifle Young Adults’ Job Opportunities


Smoked Ambitions: Federal Marijuana Policies Stifle Young Adults’ Job Opportunities

The Impact of Strict Federal Marijuana Policies on Young Adults' Government Job Prospects

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In recent years, the federal government has faced challenges in attracting young talent for employment. A survey conducted by ClearanceJobs and the Intelligence and National Security Foundation (INSF) shed light on the impact of strict marijuana policies on job applications among young adults aged 18 to 30. The survey revealed that an alarming 30 percent of respondents had either declined to apply or withdrawn their applications for federal jobs due to the requirement of security clearances and the associated stringent cannabis policies. This article explores the survey findings and delves into the perceptions, challenges, and potential reforms surrounding federal marijuana employment policies.

The Survey Findings

Considering Federal Positions with Security Clearances

When asked about their willingness to work in federal positions that require security clearances, approximately 80 percent of participants expressed a positive outlook, stating they would consider applying or might consider applying. However, it is important to note that 40 percent of these respondents admitted to having used marijuana in the past year, highlighting a potential conflict with existing cannabis policies.

Declining Applications Due to Cannabis Policies

A significant finding from the survey was that 20 percent of the participants reported declining to apply for federal jobs specifically because of the government’s restrictive cannabis policies. An additional 10 percent stated that they had withdrawn their applications after initially applying. These numbers illustrate a tangible impact on the pool of applicants due to the stringent marijuana rules.

Future Employment Concerns

Approximately 25 percent of the survey participants expressed concerns that the federal government’s marijuana policy would hinder their pursuit of employment requiring security clearances in the future. While 39 percent indicated a willingness to abstain from cannabis use in order to secure a federal job, 18 percent stated they would not comply with such a requirement. Furthermore, 15 percent revealed their intention to continue using marijuana even after obtaining a security clearance, despite potential repercussions.

Limited Understanding of Cannabis Policy

Interestingly, a notable percentage of respondents lacked a comprehensive understanding of the government’s cannabis policy. Sixteen percent believed that any marijuana use automatically disqualifies applicants from obtaining security clearances, while 37 percent perceived no impact on eligibility. Another 24 percent recognized it as one of several factors considered for clearance, and 23 percent admitted to being unaware of the policy.

Confusion Surrounding Current Security Clearance Holders

The survey also highlighted confusion regarding the policies for individuals who already hold security clearances. Nine percent of respondents erroneously believed that those with clearances can use marijuana without restrictions, while 31 percent thought usage was permissible only in states where it is legal. Thirty-three percent correctly recognized that cannabis use is prohibited, and 26 percent admitted their lack of knowledge in this area.

Survey Details

The survey involved 905 interviews with adults aged 18 to 30 residing in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, California, Florida, Texas, and Colorado. These interviews were conducted in February, with a margin of error of +/- 3.23 percentage points.

Evolving Policies and Reforms

While federal marijuana employment policies remain stringent under current prohibition, some agencies have implemented changes to adapt to the evolving landscape of cannabis legalization across states.

Recent Agency Policy Adjustments

The U.S. Secret Service (USSS) recently revised its employment policy to be more inclusive of individuals with prior marijuana use. The updated policy allows candidates of any age to become eligible for employment one year after their last consumption of cannabis, removing previous age-based restrictions.

Similarly, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has revised its cannabis rules for job applicants. Individuals who have engaged in the legal growth, manufacturing, or sale of marijuana in compliance with state laws while serving in a “position of public responsibility” will no longer be automatically disqualified from consideration.

Proposed Reforms

In late 2021, draft documents obtained by Marijuana Moment suggested that the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was considering replacing job application forms to treat past cannabis use more leniently. This potential reform reflects a shifting perspective on marijuana use among prospective federal workers.

Additionally, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) announced plans to introduce a bill aimed at safeguarding federal workers from being denied security clearances due to their marijuana use. Such legislation would provide protection and clarity for individuals seeking employment opportunities within the federal government.

Advocacy and Union Support

Last year, the largest union representing federal employees adopted a resolution supporting the legalization of marijuana. The resolution also called for an end to policies that penalize federal workers for responsible off-duty cannabis use in states where it is legal.

Furthermore, the director of national intelligence (DNI) emphasized that security clearance applicants should not be automatically rejected based on past marijuana use. The DNI encouraged discretion when evaluating applicants with cannabis investments in their stock portfolios.

Impact on Various Agencies

Several agencies have taken different approaches to their cannabis policies. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) updated its hiring policies to disqualify candidates only if they admit to using marijuana within one year of their application. This change represents a more lenient stance compared to the previous requirement of a three-year cannabis use-free period.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced in 2020 that it would not test drivers for CBD, but it reiterated its prohibition on marijuana use among regulated employees, irrespective of state cannabis policies.

Similarly, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has strictly prohibited its workers from using marijuana or investing in the cannabis industry, regardless of changes in state laws or shifting societal norms.

The Biden Administration’s Waiver Policy

In 2021, the Biden administration introduced a waiver policy aimed at providing discretion in federal employment decisions related to past marijuana use. However, the policy faced criticism after reports emerged of White House staff members being fired or facing consequences for honestly disclosing their history of marijuana use. The subsequent clarification from the White House stated that no one was terminated for “marijuana usage from years ago” or “casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”


The survey conducted by ClearanceJobs and the Intelligence and National Security Foundation (INSF) provides valuable insights into the impact of federal marijuana employment policies on young adults’ willingness to apply for government jobs. The findings indicate that a significant number of potential applicants have either declined to apply or withdrawn their applications due to the restrictive cannabis policies associated with security clearances. While some agencies have introduced reforms to accommodate changing perspectives on marijuana, further reforms and legislation are needed to address the concerns of young adults seeking federal employment opportunities. Achieving a balance between security concerns and the evolving landscape of cannabis legalization will be crucial in attracting and retaining talented individuals for government positions.