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Marijuana: Decriminalization,

Legalization and the Foreign Service

In November 2014, voters

in Alaska, Oregon and the

District of Columbia decided

to join Colorado and Wash-

ington in legalizing the use

of marijuana. Recent polling

indicates a majority of Ameri-

cans support its legalization.

However, federal law

continues to classify mari-

juana as an illicit Schedule

1 controlled substance. This

month’s column explores

these contradictions and

their implications for

workforce development and

foreign policy.

Changing Legal


Four states and the District

of Columbia have legal-

ized the recreational use of

marijuana, while dozens of

other states have legalized its

medicinal use. In November

New York City announced

that its police would no

longer arrest individuals for

low-level marijuana crimes,

but would issue summonses


However, against this rap-

idly changing legal backdrop,

U.S. federal law has remained


Changing Societal


Polling from the Pew Research Center indi


that a majority of Ameri-

cans support regulating

instead of prohibiting the

use of marijuana. Support

is inversely correlated with

age. It is particularly strong

among millennials (those

born after 1980) and weakest

among the silent generation

(those born between 1928

and 1945).

Increased Department


Despite the changing legal

framework and societal

norms, the Department of

State has continued with

an employee disciplinary

program more appropriate

for the 1980s War on Drugs

than that for managing and

developing a 21st-century


It’s hard for me to under-

stand the rationale for the

department’s increased

focus on an area that is

increasingly being liberal-

ized. At a time when the

department is seeking to

recruit the nation’s best and

brightest from a generation

in which marijuana use is

no longer demonized, and

when the department needs

to retain employees in which

the federal government

has already invested

hundreds of thousands of

dollars, such a discretionary

and heavy-handed approach

may not be the most e“ec-

tive policy.

Foreign Policy

In 2011 the Global Commis- sion on Drug Policy, a high-

level 22-member interna-

tional commission including

former United Nations

Secretary General Kofi Annan

and former Secretary of

State George Shultz, issued

an indictment of the global

War on Drugs, stating that it

had failed “with devastating

consequences for individu-

als and societies around the


In September 2014, the

commission released its

second report, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work , reiterating its recom-

mendations to decriminalize,

identify alternatives to incar-

ceration, and place greater

emphasis on public health

approaches, in addition to

now advocating for the legal

regulation of psychoactive


Their work is a prelude to

e“orts to reshape global drug

policy at a time when U.N.

member states are respond-

ing to internal democratic

pressure to change (Uruguay

decriminalized marijuana in


The State Department’s

leaders are beginning to

realize that we need to

fundamentally rethink how




Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.


| (202) 647-8160 | @matthewasada

we conduct our foreign

drug policy. In October 2014

Assistant Secretary for Inter-

national Narcotics and Law

Enforcement A“airs William Brownfield spoke about the

importance of more flexible

interpretations of interna-

tional conventions and more

tolerance for national poli-

cies, noting the challenge of

enforcing state and federal

law in the United States.

So the question remains,

as the department seeks to

develop and build support for

a more flexible and tolerant

global drug policy, why does

it paradoxically seek the

opposite for its current or

future employees?

The department needs

to be as progressive with its

workforce development and

discipline policies as it is with

global drug policy. Until it is,

AFSA will continue to encour-

age our senior leadership to

rethink its approach to the

issue while advising employ-

ees to comply with federal

law and existing department

regulations—if they wish to

remain with the department.

I look forward to hearing

your thoughts on the issue at


Next month: The Foreign

Service Open Assignments


The department needs to be as progressive with its workforce

development and discipline policies as it is with global drug policy.