WASHINGTON — Roughly three-quarters of states have legalized marijuana either for medical or recreational use, but for years, cannabis users have been barred from getting jobs with the federal government.
Congress inched closer Wednesday toward making it easier for those who smoke pot to become feds, but several Republicans used the moment to rail against the idea.
“I have not seen any significant information that says that marijuana use does not create potential security risks. There are studies that link [its use] directly to mental illness and psychosis,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas).
The legislation would prevent federal agencies from denying people jobs or security clearances based solely on cannabis use, and allow people denied such opportunities a chance to be reconsidered. It cleared the House Oversight Committee in a markup Wednesday, over the objection of more than a dozen Republicans.
There’s still a long way to go before the bill can become law. It would have to pass the House of Representatives and the Senate, which hasn’t yet even considered any companion legislation.
But the debate highlights just how polarized Congress remains on the topic of marijuana, even though just 10% of Americans believe that the drug should be illegal.
Some are just plainly against marijuana use.
“I don’t believe that we should move toward [marijuana] becoming more acceptable in the eyes of the federal government,” said Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.), who voted against the bill. “What message does this send to the thousands of individuals who in the past have stayed on the straight and narrow when it comes to drug use?”
Others, while fine with cannabis use generally, claimed Congress shouldn’t be tackling the issue of employment rules before it deals with the larger issue: The fact that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug, a legal classification reserved for the most dangerous illegal drugs, like heroin.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), a former police officer, opposed the bill on those grounds. He wasn’t convinced by Sessions’ argument about security risks.
“I never had to fight a guy that was smoking a joint,” Higgins said. “Those guys, they’re sitting on a couch, man — eating Oreos watching cartoons.”