THE BLOG
10/17/2014 06:03 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

Should Joe Biden's Son Have Been Kicked Out of the Navy for Drug Use?

News broke this morning that Hunter Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, was expelled from the Navy just a month after receiving his commission in 2013 because he failed a drug test, testing positive for cocaine use. This is only the latest and most high-profile case of a self-imposed brain drain by the U.S. government of highly talented, intelligent, motivated young professionals, because of obsolete, outmoded, and misguided prohibitionist drug war policies.

Indeed, no small number of highly qualified professionals are dissuaded from using their talents to serve their government, something that we desperately need in this time of such global turmoil, because the U.S. government adheres to policies from another era that will reject valuable and important skills and access based solely on haphazard tests about what these people do in their own time.

Surely there are problem drinkers in the government. Just go to a cocktail party at an embassy or bureau Christmas party and you will see that analyst or special agent relax just a little too much.

These individuals will face no repercussions for overindulgence within moderation. Granted, they are professionals who have received extensive training on how to conduct themselves appropriately while under the influence, or while consuming certain mind-altering substances like alcohol, and if their use ever becomes a problem, there are protocols in place to address it.

But why is there such tolerance in high levels of government for alcohol and such admonition for other substances resoundingly less harmful? After all, just ask any jarhead what his CO is like to deal with when he's going through coffee withdrawal. It's a problem, too.

In my personal experience, I have known foreign service officers and people who work in national security who have had close brushes with their employers because of recreational marijuana consumption. Fortunately, in these cases, reason won out, and their respective organizations saw the value in overlooking these missteps because of the quality work that these people provide in defense of the republic.

But those are definitely exceptions, and as a rule, highly-competent professionals are all too often dismissed solely because of a substance they chose to use during their off-time.

This has a very bad long-term effect of discouraging people who should be in government from working for the government. Earlier this year, in May, in the wake of Colorado and Washington's new responsible regulation of marijuana, rumors spread online that FBI Director James Comey told a young cyber-inclined man that "he should go ahead and apply" to the Bureau, despite the fact he was a marijuana aficionado. After all, the need for skilled tech people is very high in the government these days, with constant threat of state-sponsored cyber warfare and sporadic nonstate hack attacks.

It also happens that many tech-inclined young people are fond of marijuana. Comey's statement raised hopes on college campuses and think tanks around the country that maybe, just maybe, the government was on the verge of updating their policies toward reason. Nevertheless, two days later, the Director clarified his statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee with a resounding "I did not say I am going to change that ban."

This is unfortunate. The U.S. government should immediately change their hiring policies to accept individuals who may use marijuana or other drugs in a responsible manner on their own time, but should screen for people whose use is problematic, and deal with problem use in the same manner that they deal with problem alcohol use or coffee addiction.

James Carli is development communications and research coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. This article originally appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance blog.