State Marijuana Laws Complicate Federal Job Recruitment

For all the aspiring and current spies, diplomats and F.B.I. agents living in states that have liberalized marijuana laws, the federal government has a stern warning: Put down the bong, throw out the vaporizer and lose the rolling papers.

It may now be legal in Colorado, in Washington State and elsewhere to possess and smoke marijuana, but federal laws outlawing its use — and rules that make it a fireable offense for government workers — have remained rigid. As a result, recruiters for federal agencies are arriving on university campuses in those states with the sobering message that marijuana use will not be tolerated.

So members of a new generation are getting an early lesson in what their predecessors have done for as long as there has been espionage, diplomacy and bureaucracy. They are lying and, when necessary, stalling to avoid failing a drug test.

As any regular marijuana smoker will tell you, it usually takes about two weeks for evidence of marijuana use to disappear from urine, a urine sample being the method by which drug use ordinarily is tested.

“Delaying something is part of what a good diplomat is supposed to know how to do,” said John, a young American diplomat who lives in Washington, D.C., where marijuana use became legal this year. “If you can’t put off a test for two weeks, I mean, come on.” He spoke on the condition that only his first name be used in an effort to avoid losing his job.

Government officials who have gotten high are hardly rare, and the long list of elected officials who have admitted to past use of marijuana — and other substances — starts with President Obama, who wrote that he had used both marijuana and cocaine. But there is a widening chasm between what voters are willing to tolerate and what federal agencies allow, leaving men and women who are trying to build careers in government with a choice between honesty and their ambitions.

The C.I.A. requires that its job candidates be “generally” drug free for at least a year, and asks potential hires about past use, according to Lyssa Asbill, an agency spokeswoman. But how much past use constitutes too much is not clear.

The F.B.I. has even tougher standards. The bureau insists that recruits refrain from marijuana use for at least three years before hire.

Yet even the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, acknowledged last year that his agency’s rule could hurt recruitment, although no federal agency has yet offered specific numbers or other evidence that they are having trouble filling jobs. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cybercriminals, and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at a conference on white collar crime in May 2014.

Some members of Congress were not amused by Mr. Comey’s suggestion that the F.B.I. needed to ease its drug standards, and he soon made it clear that the bureau had no plans to radically revamp its policies on marijuana use.

Spy agencies have seen “no discernible impact” in recruitment as a result of the changes in state marijuana laws, said Joel Melstad, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Across the rest of government, standards vary for drug testing and for how much past used is permissible.

Law enforcement jobs, unsurprisingly, tend to be the toughest. There are also less obvious government employers that insist on testing hires before they start, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. A posting for an associate director for ecology at the agency on the USAjobs.gov website said that “pre-employment drug testing is required.”

But the National Park Service, in a posting for a science education coordinator, might as well say marijuana smokers are welcome. The announcement states outright: “This is not a drug-tested position.”

Katherine Archuleta, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, which has oversight over the federal bureaucracy, sent a governmentwide memorandum in late May reminding employees that even though several states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana, “federal law on marijuana use remains unchanged.”

“Drug involvement can raise questions about an individual’s reliability, judgment and trustworthiness or ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules and regulations,” Ms. Archuleta said in the memorandum.

The State Department does not test people before they are hired, and it has no time period for which applicants must be drug free before joining its ranks.

Viewed that way, the State Department’s rules may seem relatively permissive. Marijuana smokers like John, who was among a small number of State Department employees who were selected for random testing, get 30 days to submit to a drug screen.

“That was plenty of time,” John said. “I made sure to give myself 18 or 19 days, and then I did it.” Once they have started working, federal employees are supposed to grow only basil and oregano in their gardens, while their neighbors in Washington are allowed to cultivate marijuana.

Based on interviews with a handful of federal workers living here, John’s marijuana-smoking story is not unique. One recent federal hire with a security clearance said he and many of his friends believed that the government was basically asking them to lie when applying for jobs. The hire, a university graduate from a Western state with liberal marijuana laws, was adamant that neither his name nor the agency where he was about to start working appear in print.

Another State Department official, who joined the diplomatic corps a few years ago, said he had decided to grow a few marijuana plants in his backyard. He had tried to grow his own in college, but his landlord spotted the plants and quickly halted the project, saying it was illegal.

Now, the official owns his home here in Washington, where it is legal to grow up to six plants, though only three can be mature at any given time. If discovered, he said, he would claim that the plants belonged to his wife, who does not work for the government.

But he was not eager to test that excuse. He asked not to be identified by name, and added: “I don’t think I’m going to be having my boss over for a cookout.”

Mr. Obama, who wrote in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” that he had frequently used drugs during his youth, is not alone. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, two Republicans who hope to become president after Mr. Obama leaves, have admitted they smoked marijuana in the past.

Mr. Bush said he smoked marijuana while he was a student at Andover, adding it was “pretty common” there. Mr. Cruz said through a campaign spokesman that he had smoked marijuana in the past but regretted doing so.

The spokesman said Mr. Cruz had “foolishly experimented.”

Source: NY Times

One Comment

  1. So the feds are saying MONKEY SEE- MONKEY DO!. The president can do get away with it because they are who they are.The People of the United States can’t do Well the pot smokers are telling the fed to stick it and there jobs where the sun doesn’t shine. You CAN”T people what to do. Well explain this why is it that Marijuana is a banned Schedule 1 substance but the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT/DEA Owns Marijuana Patent #6630507 wow the Ignorance of the federal government. They will not speak about it, try to ask about it, There answer Because it is Illegal federally! not an answer. It is (POWER CONTROL) Now the feds don’t make a dime from it. they make $$$ from Booze, wine, cigs and no one can forget “PRESCRIPTION PILLS”. Ignorance is the door the federal government hides behind.

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