Democrat legislators are firing back at the White House amid news that the Biden administration disqualified would-be staffers because of past marijuana use that turned up on background checks, despite early administration signals indicating a more progressive policy on weed.
“On Friday, responding to a news report in The Daily Beast that said dozens of young staff members had been pushed to resign or had been reassigned to remote work based on their past marijuana use, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, confirmed that some employees had been sidelined but said that it applied to fewer people,” The New York Times reported late last week.
Psaki also responded to the claims on Twitter, writing that “The bottom line is this…of the hundreds of people hired, only five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy.”
Back in February, the Biden administration said, flat out, that “past marijuana use” would not automatically disqualify staffers from positions in the White House, according to reports from NBC News and others, and despite the fact that marijuana use is still technically illegal under federal law even though states are generally moving toward decriminalization.
The more progressive White House policy is more restrictive, though, than the Biden administration initially made it seem.
“After what one official described as ‘intensive consultation with security officials and the Personnel Security Division, the White House will now, on a case-by-case basis, waive a requirement that potential appointees in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) be eligible for a ‘Top Secret.’ clearance,” NBC News noted. “Officials said a waiver would only be granted to those who have used marijuana on a “limited” basis and who are in positions that don’t ultimately require a security clearance.”
According to The New York Times, it’s even stickier for those who pass the first round of assessment.
“A number of officials who have disclosed past marijuana use but are still permitted to work for the Biden administration have been asked to sign a pledge not to use marijuana while working for the government, and they must also submit to random drug testing, according to officials. Not everyone who disclosed past marijuana use during an extensive background check has been given the chance to stay on.”
Now, key Democratic lawmakers want to know what, precisely is going on.
“I want to find out how and why this happened, and obviously I’m going to urge them to change course,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told the Daily Beast, which broke the initial story, over the weekend.
“This administration promised a more enlightened approach, but somewhere along the line they reverted to the dogma,” added that he’d assumed the administration would be a refreshing change from “Jeff Sessions’ ‘Refer Madness'” approach.
“What’s happening now is a vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair, and out-of-touch cannabis policies,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), added, also in an interview with the Daily Beast. “There is confusion across the country because of out-of-date laws and the fact that the American public is not waiting for the federal government to get its act together. This is an opportunity for the Biden administration to help end the failed War on Drugs and make a more rational policy for everyone.”
Despite the Biden administration’s line on the subject, the officials at the head — President Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris — have a mixed record on the subject of marijuana. Biden was tough on crime during his stint in the Senate but promised to reconsider national marijuana policies in light of recent state decriminalization efforts. As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris “oversaw the arrest and prosecution of thousands of people, mostly young people of color, for marijuana and other drug offenses.”
Democrats say they will continue to press the Biden White House on the issue, even if they are reconsidering their position behind the scenes.
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