US Defense Secretary Says Pentagon 'Can Be 'Flexible' On Hiring Past Marijuana Users

By Paul Gaita 09/19/16

Defense Secretary Carter did not clarify the level of “understanding” that would go into accepting applicants with a past history of drug use.

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US Defense Secretary Says Pentagon 'Can Be 'Flexible' On Hiring Past Marijuana Users
United States Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Photo via Tech Crunch/YouTube

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has said that the Pentagon would consider hiring individuals who have experimented with marijuana for positions in the military or defense industry.

Carter made the comments last week while speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF 2016 conference in San Francisco. When asked if he would ever consider hiring someone who had used marijuana for an engineering position at the Pentagon, Carter said, “Yes, we can be flexible in that regard, and we need to.”

Carter spoke directly to changing perspectives on marijuana at both the societal and legal levels. While still classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, the acceptance of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes has grown exponentially in recent years.

“In that and many other ways, we need to, while protecting ourselves and doing the appropriate things to make sure that it’s safe to entrust information with people, we need to understand—and we do— the way people [and] lives have changed, not hold against them things that they’ve done when they were younger," said Carter.

Carter did not clarify the level of “understanding” that would go into accepting applicants with a past history of drug use, specifically in regard to how many years had passed between the last use and the time of application for a defense or military position. The question of timeframe has been a troubling issue for other governmental departments, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Currently, individuals who apply for a job with the bureau must have abstained from cannabis for a period of three years. A 2015 report from the Justice Department noted that this requirement has made “recruitment and retention of cyber personnel is an ongoing challenge for the FBI."

The bureau’s director, James Comey, also spoke about these concerns in a speech to the White Collar Crime Institute in 2014, where he said that he was “grappling with the question” of hiring programmers and hackers to aid in the fight against cybercrime who have used marijuana in the past. “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,” he stated at the time.

In a news release issued after Carter’s comments at Disrupt SF, Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority, a national cannabis advocacy group, called the defense secretary a “surprising new ally” in the fight for marijuana policy reform. “This is an amazing sign of how effective our movement has been at beginning to erase the stigma and discrimination that people who use marijuana have faced for far too long,” he said in the release. “Of course, we still have much work to do—and laws to change—but make no mistake: we are winning.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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