You can’t easily or quickly characterize the relationship the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintains with cannabis. Like most associations with the CIA, the truth is shrouded in decades of rumors, half-truths, and misdirection. Did the CIA develop a truth serum using marijuana? What facts exist around the CIA growing fake marijuana to display at trade shows? Is the CIA the originator behind the mysterious G-13 marijuana strain?
Some answers we’ll never know. Those who previously characterized the CIA as marijuana haters, however, discovered recently that isn’t exactly the truth. In its ongoing Ask Molly series, where the CIA publicly addresses common questions asked by the public, the federal agency clarified that using illicit drugs like marijuana doesn’t automatically qualify them as a “bad” or “unworthy” person. However, it may disqualify you from acquiring a necessary security clearance.
“I’m not asserting that those who have experimented with drugs are in some way bad or unworthy, but a willingness to break federal law to engage in illicit drug use can be used as a measure of someone’s fitness to hold a security clearance,” wrote Molly Hale, the CIA’s public voice since 2002. “It should be noted that drug use and abuse is one of the most common reasons applicants are denied a security clearance.”
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Someone had asked whether using illegal drugs would limit them from joining the federal agency. The CIA stated that no, they won’t automatically deny your application because you smoked a joint or popped a molly at music festival. Instead, the CIA expects any candidate not to have consumed illicit drugs within the past 12 months.
This emphasis isn’t an anti-drug stance. Instead, the CIA comes from a pro-security position.
“It might seem a bit archaic, but consider the access to information we’re giving CIA employees, and consequences of granting access to the wrong person,” Hale wrote. “Officers regularly handle classified information, which, if leaked, could spell disaster for national security and endanger the life of CIA officers, assets, and their families.”
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Clever individuals may wonder if smoking marijuana in a state with legal recreational access constitutes as illicit drug use. But the CIA already considered this position.
“[You may say] I live in a state where marijuana use was legalized under state law, so would any of this really apply in my case? The short answer is yes,” Hale wrote. “Marijuana remains illegal under federal law in every state. CIA is bound by federal law, which prohibits CIA from granting security clearances to unlawful users of controlled substances, including marijuana. State laws do not supersede those of the federal government.”