Here’s how to end DoD ‘pot stocks’ debate

I’ve been trying to get my head around the marijuana-versus-security clearance question. Someone deep in the Defense Department has offered clarification that if you own stock in a “marijuana company” you could jeopardize your security clearance. The idea has ignited quite a debate.

This clarification concerns the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility. You won’t find it at the DODCAF web site but as Federal News Network’s Scott Maucione reported, it came from an email cut and pasted into a Facebook page for Air Force officers. But the approach to clearance and stocks was confirmed by a Defense spokeswoman, Army Lt. Col. Audricia Harris, who vigorously quashed the idea that any new policy has come out.

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“CAF does not issue policy, rather it adheres to applicable policies when making adjudicative determinations on a person’s reliability and trustworthiness to hold a clearance,” she stated, and that DoD is “still researching policy guidance specific to financial involvement in marijuana.”

Okay, got it. So let me offer some advice, not to LTC Harris but to the powers-that-be: Toss the whole idea before it takes hold. As it stands now, existing policy is silent on whether owning stock in a company wholly or partially doing marijuana business has any effect on suitability for clearance. Let’s not add it.

A reader commented on our story, pointing out that the relevant policy found in DoD Manual 5200.02 states that illegal or inappropriate involvement in drugs is out of bounds. With respect to personal use of illegal drugs, Section 7B.2 of the April 2017 revision is clear: “… agencies are prohibited from granting or renewing a security clearance to an unlawful user of a controlled substance, which includes marijuana. Legislative changes by some states and the District of Columbia do not alter federal law or existing national security guidelines.”

Fair enough. That’s the policy, and people decide at some point whether they’ll be law abiding or not, or how badly they want a security clearance.

But just above that, section 7B.1 states, as the reader noted, “Improper or illegal involvement with drugs raises questions regarding an individual’s willingness or ability to protect classified information.”

Illegal involvement strikes me as something people could reasonably agree on. If you import, manufacture, distribute, or sell, for example, like the badasses on “Breaking Bad.”

But what is “improper involvement?” For that matter, what does “raising questions” mean? Extend that to stock ownership in legal enterprises, and the latest interpretation, in my view, becomes so distantly derived from 5200.02 as to be indefensible.

Companies on exchanges in both Canada and the United States have either acquired marijuana-related businesses or launched initial public offerings of their own. The Motley Fool last year detailed a deal in which Britain’s Imperial Brands, traded over-the-counter in the U.S., joined with an investment fund backed by Snoop Dog. They invested in a company called Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies. This was after a cannabinoid from another company had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in treating childhood epilepsy. No, they can’t sell it as a cocktail bitter.

So the products are legal for use and the stocks therefore traded legally, presumably under federal securities regulation. Then, to put it bluntly, who is the DoD to find people who invest in such stocks subject to questions about their loyalty? All the more so if the stocks are percentages of mutual funds.

For all we know even a Thrift Savings Plan fund includes such a stock.

Marijuana and its derivatives carry cultural connotations that are a turnoff for some people. So do whiskey, cigarettes, fast cars and gambling. If you have an alcohol abuse problem or incur gambling debts you can’t pay, those are also grounds for losing security clearance. But you can also be a teetotaler or non-gambler and still decide to invest in Brown Forman (Jack Daniels’ parent company) or Las Vegas Sands Corp. No one would raise questions about your ability or willingness to hold secret information.

Rule-makers in the relevant DoD components need to head this one off at the pass.

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