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Millennials, Marijuana and the Mechanics of Change

A black and white image of millenials smoking a joint even though they have been hired by the FBI to monitor internet crimes.
Photo by Giandomenico Jardella

Joint Opinions

Millennials, Marijuana and the Mechanics of Change

What’s a federal security agency to do when all the best hackers in the country use cannabis? That’s the question the FBI must grapple with as it struggles to find cyber specialists experienced enough to fight today’s online terrorism.

According to the Wall Street Journal, FBI Director James Comey told attendees at the White Collar Crime Institute, an annual conference held at the New York City Bar Association in Manhattan, that the organization might have to loosen its zero-tolerance policy on marijuana. Apparently, many of the top computer programmers and hackers in the country enjoy cannabis, and that has become a problem for Comey.

According to the journal, Congress has authorized the FBI to add 2,000 personnel to its staff this year and many of those new recruits will be assigned to tackle cyber crimes, a growing priority for the agency.

Comey said the agency is grappling with how to amend the organization’s marijuana policies, which currently exclude anyone who has smoked marijuana within the last three years. When told by one conference attendee a friend had decided not to apply to the FBI after reading up on the marijuana policy, Comey told him, the theoretical candidate should “go ahead and apply” regardless of the current stance.

The FBI director said the agency has “changed both our mindset and the way we do business.” He said it worked less in the box than it has in the past.

A change in attitude concerning cannabis may be vital for the tech industry both on the federal and private sides to remain on top of industry evolution. As marijuana continues to become more accepted and more widespread, the FBI isn’t the only organization that should be looking to adapt its policies.

It’s well understood, to thrive in the tech industry for any significant period of time, players have to be able to learn and adapt. The technology industry is addicted to change and innovation. Employees and freelancers must continually learn to stay relevant, but companies must look change their policies and image to do the same.

John Sloan, a nearly 40-year tech industry survivor who has worked everywhere from IBM to Linux was recently interviewed by ReadWrite and acknowledged when he’s not working with clients in the consulting company he owns, he is spending all his time on personal development.

“I read, I attend conferences, I learn new skills,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to newer employees looking to go the distance he said, “No matter what technologies is being taught when a freshman enters university, they will almost certainly not be the ones being taught when that senior graduates. And whatever technologies that student learns will not be what he ends up needing expertise in when he enters the workforce. Continuous, lifelong learning isn’t a buzzword, it’s a requirement.”

Any industry with strong foundations in innovation cannot rely on the same rules set years ago to continue to jive with evolving generations. Certainly, when Sloan began in the industry in the mid-’70s there was an evolution concerning marijuana, but as the Flower Power generation gave way to the hard-hitting financial and dot-com booms there was a push to the black-and-white standards of large-scale corporations.

Those ideals have evolved yet again and today’s college graduates are a “live and let live” generation. The Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of millennials support legalizing marijuana and even more support gay-marriage. While many older generations view this new crop as entitled, the millennials are for better or worse, more interested in fitting work into their lives, rather than fitting their lives into their work.

Many are quick to blame the “trophy-culture” of doting parents and teachers on their children, but the millennials high sense of self and desire of a work-life balance also comes from watching adults burning out of the corporate mentality of the ’80s and ’90s, as well as a cultural shift to a healthier lifestyle. As millennials begin to take over more of the workplace, exactly 40 percent by 2020, we can expect to see more of a balance-mentality and for many, balance includes marijuana.

This shift in ideals may be most apparent in the tech industry, as the new crop of hackers in Silicon Valley, are viewed less often as the genius-dork-turned-billionaires we knew in the ’90s to an increasingly “brogrammer” culture of frat grads with tech degrees, smoking copious amounts of marijuana while slinging code for the major players. Anyone watching HBO’s “Silicon Valley” or “The Social Network” can easily see how much of the tech stereotype has evolved. Whether this is good or bad for the industry is irrelevant, the point is no industry, whether private, publicly traded or federally funded is safe from the ever-changing attitudes of marijuana.

And changing attitudes of marijuana isn’t just for those who wish to smoke before heading to the office. Mat Honan, the author of “High-Tech,” an article in Wired focusing on the tech industries growing hand in marijuana, said: “For the science and technology set, it’s a classic opportunity to disrupt an industry historically run by hippies and gangsters. And the entire tech-industrial complex is getting in on the action: investors, entrepreneurs, biotechnologists, scientists, industrial designers, electrical engineers, data analysts, and software developers. Industry types with experience at Apple and Juniper and Silicon Valley Bank and Zynga and all manner of other companies are flocking to cannabis with the hopes of creating a breakout product for a burgeoning legitimate industry.”

Some of the sharpest minds in technology, whether they imbibe in marijuana or not, are heading to the cannabis world because they understand the profit to be made.

“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.

While Comey and his subordinates grapple with how to adapt, the FBI also must fight with the ever-present lure of private industry, which for brilliant coders, often has better pay, better benefits and a more relaxed attitude toward the work-life balance. In addition, if a job is in the burgeoning marijuana-tech game, it also has a considerably more relaxed view of herb.

In our “next big thing” culture companies, whether looking to fight cyber criminals, create a billion dollar app or the next great vaporizer, must learn to adapt or risk becoming obsolete – much like your iPhone3.

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