Anyone who has ever aspired to become a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations or an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency has probably figured out by now that these are not marijuana-friendly careers. Applying to work at one of these government organizations goes far beyond passing a simple drug test, it requires a potential candidate to have refrained from the consumption of cannabis anywhere between one to three years.
However, as more states legalize marijuana, there is speculation that federal agencies, such as the FBI and CIA, are missing out on hiring qualified applicants simply because they may have experience with marijuana. FBI Director James B. Comey said last year in The Wall Street Journal that the agency was planning to relax its policies on pot in hopes of opening up the recruitment pool for hackers. Yet, he later suggested that his comment was made, at least in part, as a joke in reference to a candidate who had smoked marijuana within the past five years.
Marijuana may have once been confined to the counterculture, but it has since crawled into the mainstream, with four states and the District of Columbia passing initiatives to legalize it for recreational use. This overall change in attitude has manifested a society where at least half of the population has reported use of the herb, so it stands to reason that scouring the country for applicants with no stoner skeletons in their closet could prove to be a difficult task.
Then again, how can we expect government agencies to loosen their drug policies when the majority of corporations in legal states like Colorado and Washington have not made any significant changes of their own? Most companies still employ the use of zero tolerance, which disqualifies applicants who submit a positive test for marijuana, and can also lead to the termination of an employee who happens to get busted by a random drug screen.
“A lot of the people in these big corporations can’t quite get their heads around this—the fact that marijuana is legal. Because they made such a commitment to zero-tolerance drug testing,” human resources expert, professor Peter Cappelli, told The Atlantic. “I think more generally it’s this cognitive dissonance problem.”
The bulk of this conundrum is the result of discrepancies between state and federal law, which say that marijuana is legal in places like Colorado but still considered a dangerous substance in the eyes of the federal government. Eventually, however, experts believe that companies that currently disqualify candidates over their past marijuana use will be forced to change their policies — but they will do it very quietly, said Cappelli. Nevertheless, as marijuana is legalized in more states, companies will have no choice but to revamp their drug and impairment polices or face a sizeable staffing debacle.