Marijuana users won't be welcome at the FBI anytime soon, the agency's director said Wednesday.
The loosening of restrictions on pot in some states has forced the FBI to reject qualified applicants because of a policy that bars them from having used the drug during the last three years.
That has made it even harder to hire computer crimes specialists, who are already in high demand, since such "hackers" are especially fond of marijuana, FBI Director James B. Comey said at a White Collar Crime Institute conference Tuesday.
“I have to hire a great workforce to compete with those cyber-criminals, and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” Comey said, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The statement unleashed a buzz online over whether Comey meant that the FBI was considering loosening its policy.
Confronted by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) at an oversight hearing Wednesday, Comey said he had been trying to be lighthearted.
"I am determined not to lose my sense humor," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Unfortunately, there I was trying to be both serious and funny."
Comey said his original comments came in response to a question from an audience member, who said someone he knew was a great candidate for the FBI but had smoked marijuana recently.
"I said, 'I’m not going discuss a specific case, but apply,'" Comey said at the Senate hearing. "And then I waxed philosophic and funny to say, 'One of the challenges we face is getting a good work force at the same time that young people’s attitudes and our states' attitudes about marijuana are leading more and more of them to try it.'"
Sessions had questioned Comey about whether the FBI director understood that his earlier statement "could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use."
"That could undermine our ability to convince young people to not go down a dangerous path," Sessions said.
In his reply, Comey said he was "absolutely dead-set" against marijuana.
"I don’t want young people to use marijuana," he said. "It’s against the law. We have a three-year ban.... I did not say I’m going to change that."