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Comey says FBI must "grapple with" hiring policy and marijuana use

Also, "do not smoke weed on the way to the interview."
Marijuana plants are displayed for sale.
Marijuana plants are displayed for sale.

FBI Director James Comey distanced himself Tuesday from lighthearted comments he made in New York on Monday about the challenges of finding qualified applicants to work for the bureau that also abide by its zero-tolerance policy on marijuana use.

Speaking at the White Collar Crime Institute in New York City on Monday, Comey admitted that the bureau’s ban on marijuana use by applicants is likely hurting efforts to recruit top talent. Speaking specifically of the FBI’s digital policing, he said, “One of my challenges is -- I've got to hire a great workforce to keep pace with the criminals, and I am competing with a lot of better paying private sector entities for these kids. And some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview with the FBI.”

Current policy bars anyone who has smoked marijuana in the past three years from being considered for a position with the FBI. The FBI is expected to ramp up its cybercrime division this year.

When asked about his remarks at a Senate hearing Tuesday, Comey said, "I am determined not to lose my sense of humor. But unfortunately there I was trying to be both serious and funny."

Comey also indicated that despite widespread popular acceptance of the drug and changing state law towards pot, he is "absolutely dead set against using marijuana." He continued, "I did not say I'm goign to change [the three-year] ban. I said I have to grapple with the change in my workforce." 

As more states legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes, the U.S. government's attitudes towards the drug will likely cause more recruiting troubles. While there is not data to suggest that desirable FBI recruits are more likely to use marijuana, it is true that African-Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Americans, despite using the drug at the same rate.

“Its something we're dealing with right now,” Comey said. When an attendee at the conference said that a friend had been deterred from applying to the FBI by the pot prohibition, Comey said, "he should fill out the application." Although he did not comment on hiring practices present or potential, he offered one last bit of advice: "but do not smoke weed on the way to the interview."