Pubdate: Mon, 10 Oct 2005
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2005, The Olympian
Author: Ted Bridis, AP
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


WASHINGTON -- The FBI, famous for its straight-laced crime-fighting 
image, is considering whether to relax its hiring rules over how 
often applicants could have used marijuana or other illegal drugs 
earlier in life.

Some senior FBI managers have been deeply frustrated that they could 
not hire applicants who acknowledged occasional marijuana use in 
college, but in some cases already perform top-secret work at other 
government agencies, such as the CIA or State Department.

FBI Director Robert Mueller will make the final decision. "We can't 
say when or if this is going to happen, but we are exploring the 
possibility," spokesman Stephen Kodak said

The change would ease limits about how often -- and how many years 
ago -- applicants for jobs such as intelligence analysts, linguists, 
computer specialists, accountants and others had used illegal drugs.

The rules, however, would not be relaxed for FBI special agents, the 
fabled "G-men" who conduct most criminal and terrorism 
investigations. Also, the new plan would continue to ban current drug use.

The nation's former anti-drug czar said he understands the FBI's dilemma.

"The integrity of the FBI is a known national treasure that must be 
protected," said retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who used to head the 
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "But there should 
be no hard and fast rule that suggests you can't ever have used 
drugs. As long as it's clear that's behind you and you're 
overwhelmingly likely to remain drug free, you should be eligible."

Current rules prohibit the FBI from hiring anyone who used marijuana 
within the past three years or more than 15 times ever.

"That 16th time is a killer," McCaffrey said.

The rules also ban anyone who used other illegal drugs, such as 
cocaine or heroin, in the past 10 years or more than five times.

The new FBI proposal would judge applicants based on their "whole 
person" rather than limiting drug-related experiences to an arbitrary 
number. It would consider the circumstances of a person's previous 
drug use, such as their age, and the likelihood of future usage. The 
relaxed standard already is in use at most other U.S. intelligence agencies.

The FBI proposal contrasts with the agency's starched image and its 
drug-fighting history. A generation of video game players can 
remember seeing the FBI seal and slogan, "Winners don't use drugs," 
attributed to former FBI Director William Sessions, on popular arcade 
games from the late 1980s.

Private companies have wrestled with the same problem. Employers 
complain they can't afford to turn away applicants because of 
marijuana use that ended years earlier, said Robert Drusendahl, owner 
of The Pre-Check Co. in Cleveland, which performs background 
background checks for private companies.

"The point is, they can't fill those spots," Drusendahl said. "This 
is a microcosm of what's happening outside in the rest of the world. 
Do we dilute our standards?" He said the FBI should have a low 
tolerance for any illegal behavior by applicants. "If they used 
marijuana, that's illegal. It's pretty cut and dried."

A recently retired FBI polygraph examiner, Harold Byford of El Paso, 
Texas, was quoted in a federal lawsuit in February 2002 arguing that 
"if someone has smoked marijuana 15 times, he's done it 50 times. ... 
If I was running the show there would be no one in the FBI that ever 
used illegal drugs!"

The proposed FBI change also reflects cultural and generational 
shifts in attitudes toward marijuana and other drugs, even as the 
Bush administration has sought to establish links between terrorists 
and narcotics.

"I don't think you could find anybody who hasn't tried marijuana, and 
I take a lot of credit for that," said Tommy Chong, the comedian 
whose films with Cheech Marin provided over-the-top portrayals of 
marijuana culture during the 1980s. "They're going to have to change 
their policy."

While marijuana use is hardly universal, it remains the most commonly 
used illegal drug in the United States, with about half of teenagers 
trying the drug before they graduate high school.

"What people did when they were 18 or 21, I think that is pretty 
irrelevant," said Richard Clarke, a former top White House 
counterterrorism adviser. "We have to recognize there are a couple of 
generations now who regarded marijuana use, while it's technically 
illegal, as nothing more serious than jaywalking."

An agency's attitude toward drug use has been blamed for unexpected 
consequences. The CIA forced one of its officers, Edward Lee Howard, 
to resign in May 1983 after he failed a polygraph test and disclosed 
his drug use in Colombia during 1975 when he was a Peace Corps 
volunteer. Howard defected to the Soviet Union in 1985 after he was 
accused of espionage activities that spy hunters believe were driven 
by resentment over his forced resignation.

"I had been totally honest about each and every misdeed in my past, 
including my drug use in South America and my occasional abuse of 
alcohol," Howard wrote in his 1995 memoirs. He died in July 2002 at 
his home outside Moscow.

Some other federal agencies also have tough marijuana policies. The 
Drug Enforcement Administration will not hire applicants as agents 
who used illegal drugs, although it makes exceptions for admitting 
"limited youthful and experimental use of marijuana." The DEA, 
however, permits no prior use of harder drugs.

"Recreational marijuana use is a fact of life nowadays," said Mark 
Zaid, a Washington lawyer who has represented people rejected for FBI 
jobs over drugs. "It doesn't stop Supreme Court justices from getting 
on the bench and doesn't stop presidents from getting elected, so why 
should it stop someone from getting hired by the FBI?"
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