Excerpted from The New York Times article by Ernesto Londoño

Not long ago, urinating in a cup for a drug test was a widely accepted, if annoying, requirement to start a new job. The legalization of marijuana in more and more states in recent years upended that, prompting many employers to shelve hiring rules from the “Just Say No” era.

There was a major holdout: the federal government, by far the nation’s largest employer. But now, it too is significantly relaxing drug screening rules as agencies struggle to replenish the ranks of a rapidly aging work force in a tight job market.

During the past five years, the United States military gave more than 3,400 new recruits who failed a drug test on their first day a grace period to try again, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Agencies like the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have adopted more lenient rules regarding past use of marijuana among job candidates, officials acknowledge.

And later this year, the Biden administration is expected to take another major step, scaling back how deeply the government delves into the drug histories of people applying for a security clearance.

Polls show that more than half of Americans have used marijuana recreationally or medicinally and that a majority believe it should be legal. Medical cannabis use is legal in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana is lawful in 22 states as well as the nation’s capital but remains illegal under federal law.

“We don’t want to be disqualifying half of the population, tens of millions of people, for having done something that most of our recent presidents have done,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who has introduced legislation that would deem marijuana use immaterial in security clearance reviews required for many federal jobs. “You’re taking huge numbers of people off the field.”

Once hired, federal employees remain barred from using drugs including marijuana, even in states that have legalized it. And while there is broad support for more permissive hiring policies regarding past marijuana use, the shifting rules have critics.

When Gen. David H. Berger became the commandant of the Marine Corps in 2019, he expressed concern about how prevalent drug use had become among Marines.

“I remain troubled by the extent to which drug abuse is a characteristic of new recruits, and the fact the vast majority of recruits require drug waivers for enlistment,” he wrote in a report on the state of the Marine Corps.

Until recently, admitting recent drug use was disqualifying for many roles. But even some of the government’s most selective agencies have loosened their rules as part of a patchwork of policies that have gone largely unnoticed outside of the federal government.

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