The agency says it's managing to meet its hiring goals despite a ban on hiring anyone who's used marijuana within the last three years.
The most recent election cycle was a big win for marijuana advocates, with eight states legalizing medicinal and/or recreational marijuana. Indeed, in the lead up to the election, polls showed that a solid 60 percent of Americans favored total legalization of cannabis. Yet the DEA doubled down on its commitment to keeping cannabis a Schedule I drug last fall, allowing federal agencies including the FBI to continue to discriminate against job candidates who've puffed the magic dragon.
The FBI told Motherboard that despite this policy, it has been able to hire the number of cyber experts it needs. That comes three years after The Wall Street Journal first reported the agency was considering loosening the restrictions and FBI Director James Comey implied he was was having a hard time finding talented cyber specialists who hadn't smoked weed recently. But after taking heat from anti-marijuana crusader Jeff Sessions, Comey later backtracked and said he was just making a funny.
Asked about the anti-weed hiring policy this week, an FBI spokesperson told Motherboard via email that "the FBI will continue to have high hiring standards, which include a complete background investigation and drug test." While the spokesperson didn't comment on the justification for this policy, they did clarify that this rule also pertains to those who legally use marijuana as a medicine—any THC in your system in the last three years, legal or otherwise—is a no go for the bureau.
In any case, the strict stance doesn't seem to be slowing down the FBI's hiring. In 2016, the bureau's goal was to recruit 3,000 new agents and professional staffers, which the bureau's spokesperson said was met. This year, the bureau hopes to hire 760 special agents and 1500 staffers, 131 of whom will be "cyber professionals."
But according to the marijuana advocacy group NORML, this anti-pot policy may very well be an instance of the FBI cutting off its nose to spite its face. If the bureau wants the best and the brightest to fight the ever present cyber threats against the United States, it will have to acknowledge the changing national attitude toward marijuana and adapt accordingly, lest we put our national security at risk for the sake of outdated opinions about America's favorite plant.
"These hiring practices unnecessarily and arbitrarily limiting the job candidate pool to exclude otherwise qualified candidates..."
"These sort of discriminatory hiring policies are holdovers from a bygone era," Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, told me. "Jurisdictions where the use of cannabis is legally regulated have experienced increases in workforce participation and decreases in workplace absenteeism. Ultimately, these policies are damaging not only to would-be employees, but also to the employers themselves."
"These hiring practices unnecessarily and arbitrarily limiting the job candidate pool to exclude otherwise qualified candidates solely in order to perpetuate the stigmatization of cannabis and those who responsibly consume it," he added.
If there ever was any hope of the FBI loosening hiring standards to allow those who've recently smoked weed into their ranks, it has certainly faded with the rise of Jeff Sessions to the post of Attorney General in the Trump administration. Sessions, who has been noted for his particularly harsh attitude toward marijuana and its users, was the foremost critic of Comey's light remarks on the youths' fondness of reefer back in 2014.
Now that Sessions is the top lawman of the land, it's unlikely that things will get easier for hackers who enjoy the occasional spliff. And for those who aspire to work at the FBI and fight cybercrime for our nation, it's probably best to forget about it—or to put down the joint for a few years.