Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
May 28, 2014
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The FBI has a marijuana problem

Hiring the most talented people – even potheads

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The FBI has a problem – the same problem many private businesses have.

What do you do when some of the people you would like to hire – talented people who can get the job done – like to smoke marijuana?

After all, weed, grass, pot, ganja – whatever you want to call it – is legal for recreational use in two states, well on the way to becoming legal or a minor offense in other states and municipalities, and basically overlooked by police in a lot of locales where it technically is still against the law.

Bureau director James Comey says he is looking to hire about 2,000 staffers for the cybersecurity unit, but dope-smoking applicants are a problem.

“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cybercriminals,” Comey told a crowd at the White Collar Crime Institute recently, “and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

Comey had to clarify what he meant after Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., wondered whether the nation’s top cop was signaling support for marijuana use.

“Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use?” Sessions asked Comey during a Judiciary Committee hearing. “And that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?”

Comey responded, “I did not say I’m going to change that plan. I said I have to grapple with the change in my workforce.

The plan he is referring to is the FBI’s notoriously stringent hiring process. Among other things, you wouldn’t get the chance to play a real-life G-man if you have smoked wacky tabacky in the past three years.

To be sure, companies – and, yes, the FBI – can pretty much set any policies they want to regarding sobriety. That is, it’s legal to drink in every state in the Union, but that doesn’t mean you can show up at work drunk. Many employers have rules against that. Same with showing up stoned. It’s best avoided in the spirit of job security.

Employer drug testing is trickier. In the case of marijuana, it can measure what you’ve done on your own time days before taking the test, whether that activity was legal or not. (One of our colleagues here at Scripps News, Lee Bowman, wrote extensively about this earlier this year.)

Some companies realized a long time ago they can’t afford to cut out talented employees who enjoy a joint or two.

“There are industries like the tech industry where these policies (meaning testing) have never particularly gained prominence, largely because the employers have the understanding that marijuana in particular is a substance that enjoys popularity among the talent pool,” said Deputy Director Paul Armentano of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

But the FBI’s situation is intriguing.

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Whether it’s a private company or the FBI, it’s an issue that’s not going away. As recreational use of marijuana is adopted in states, and smoking is more accepted, do employers need to change the way they view workers who use it?

But Armentano says don’t look to Washington for answers anytime soon because historically the federal government does not lead on drug policy, “it follows.”

We’ll have to wait and see.