Palo Santo co-founder Daniel Goldberg talks psychedelics investmentsCannabis cultivation is hard: Operators explain why Credit: Gloria Manna / Flickr

A cannabis industry generally in support of the administration, and which got a figurative shot in the arm this week with the reintroduction of the SAFE Banking Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, is grappling with the buzzkill that previous pot use for staffers hoping to obtain security clearances remains a “national security” threat that is cause for termination

When asked for their perspectives on the Biden administration’s hiring practices as it relates to cannabis, industry leaders across the Midwest queried by Grown In replied with a mix of pragmatism, anger, uncertainty, and hope.

“I’ll give “the administration” the benefit of the doubt” said James Yi, chief executive of Chicago-based ordering fulfillment and payment platform leaf.trade, which earlier this month raised $5.5 million in a Series A round of financing. “It’s the most important job on the planet. There was probably some legacy thing that wasn’t changed.”

Anqunette Sarfoh, serial cannabis entrepreneur and Detroit media personality, says this is what should be expected from “the architect of the war on drugs” and a former state prosecutor. 

“Joe Biden is still calling pot a gateway drug,” said Sarfoh, also a board member of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association. “They are not only lacking information, but lacking curiosity. 

Executives at multistate operators who are banking a lot on the anticipation of normalized banking laws in the coming years are closely reading the tea leaves.

“This is contrary to so many things the administration has revealed so far,” said Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs, which announced last week a mostly stock-based $158 million acquisition of Leicester, Mass.-based Cultivate, making his company fully operational in Massachusetts with 100,000 square feet of cultivation space and a maximum three medical dispensaries and three recreational dispensaries.

“I’m envisioning it’s a matter of the right hand not talking to the left hand.”

The Biden administration was seemingly for the idea of accommodating employment opportunities for pot smokers as recently as February, before it was against it. This “about face”, say some queried who would not go on the record, provides a reason for pause.

“I wasn’t surprised with the outcome, but that quick of a 180 really threw me off,” said Gabe Mendoza, vice president of Mission Dispensaries, part of Phoenix-based 4Front Ventures. “This will just tell you how far we have to go to normalize the plant.”

The machinery of federal government security protocols moves at a pace unto its own. Grown In’s Mike Fourcher, who served as a political appointee in the Clinton Administration’s Department of Energy, abstained from cannabis in college knowing it would prohibit him from advancement. 

“I didn’t want to be fired if I got to D.C.,” he shared via Twitter. When I got my D.C. job, and needed clearance, I was questioned closely about drug use. Everyone in D.C. knows this is how it works.”

“Cannabis use remains against the federal law and security clearances are vetted by the F.B.I., an arm of the Department of Justice,” Fourcher followed up in an interview. “The point of the vetting is to determine if you’ve broken any laws that an adversary could leverage against you. If you break a law that Biden might ignore, but a later president might enforce, that’s potential leverage for an adversary to get classified information from you.”

Professional stigma associated with legal cannabis consumption also remains a real thing. Biden’s bud brouhaha is an indication that, despite increased industry employment and a better understanding of the plant’s nurturing rather than incriminating properties, cannabis consumption remains a risk for professional advancement.

“It’s always disappointing to see people who consumed cannabis in a legal state or regardless, have that come back and haunt them and damage their careers” said Dusty Shroyer, who was recently promoted to president of Chicago-based Revolution Global.

For employment opportunities that don’t require national security credentials, more states going legal combined with greater evidence of benign ramifications associated with off-hours consumption should yield wider acceptance. 

“We all need to rethink our hiring practices and reconsider the long-term repercussions of former cannabis use,” said Amor Montes de Oca, Executive Director of Illinois Women in Cannabis. 

Employment experts outside of the industry eye green skies ahead. 

“My perspective is that this issue, if it is not there yet, is becoming moot,” said John Challenger of Chicago-based outplacement services and executive coaching company Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. “It will have for most employers less and less significance.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.