Our hesitancy to support Joe Biden was well-founded. He was responsible as a Senator for the passage of federal anti-drug legislation in the '80s and '90s and the founding of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the creation of the drug czar Cabinet post in 1982. As recently as 2019, Biden called marijuana a gateway to heroin and other drugs.
Now we're learning White House staffers who've used or use cannabis are being suspended or told to resign or shifted to remote work locations. Press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that five staffers are “no longer employed as a result of this policy," adding: "There were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated."
In an exchange with Vox reporter Aaron Rupar on March 24, Psaki further explained:
"What we tried to do as an administration was work with the security service, who actually makes these determinations about suitability for serving in government. In the past - and I served in the Obama-Biden administration - the rules were actually far more stringent. So that isn't about anyone's personal point-of-view, it's about working through the process, the history, and modernizing it, taking steps to address the fact that marijuana is legal in a number of states across the country. It is still illegal federally, right? We know that. There were, as I noted in our comment last week, five individuals who are no longer employed at the White House. A number of them, there were other security issues that were raised. That's an unfortunate conclusion, of course, but what we tried to do is enable additional members of the team who would not have been able to continue serving in past administrations to continue serving by updating our policy in coordination with the security service."
Rupar followed up: "Surely, President Biden could implement changes here unilaterally and just say that these people could come work for him."
Psaki: "Well, I think If marijuana was federally legal that might be a different circumstance. I don't think I have anything more for you on this."
Worth noting that Psaki does indicate in this response that in some of the cases, there were "other security issues" beyond marijuana use https://t.co/7VJzn9rX10— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 24, 2021
So the pot purge has begun.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) issued the following statement:
"This is a vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair and out-of-touch cannabis policies... Young people shouldn't be singled out and discriminated against for something that is legal in much of the country and supported by a majority of Americans."
In a letter to Biden dated March 25, 30 House members, led by Blumenauer, questioned the White House policy regarding previous marijuana use by employees:
"Your administration signaled that it would waive the harsh requirements that prevent some Executive Office appointees with previous cannabis use from receiving certain security clearances. Furthermore, the existing policies have been applied in inconsistent and unfair ways. Past presidents have admitted to illegal cannabis use, among other drug use, without consequences. President Obama famously told voters, “When I was a kid, I inhaled” drawing a contrast to President Clinton’s half admission to cannabis use. Vice President Harris has admitted to past cannabis use as has Secretary Buttigieg.Those in the upper ranks of your administration won’t face consequences for their cannabis use, and nor should they, but the same standard should be applied across the administration. Repercussions for cannabis use have always been unequal and those with the most power have always faced the fewest consequences. We ask that you don’t allow that pattern to continue within your administration."
The other signees are: Reps. Don Beyer, Joaquin Castro, Steve Cohen, Gerald Connolly, Peter DeFazio, Theodore Deutch, Adriano Espaillat, Dwight Evans, Jesús "Chuy" García, Alcee Hastings, Jared Huffman,Pramila Jayapal, Henry "Hank" Johnson, Jr., Mondaire Jones, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, James McGovern, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ilhan Omar, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, Jan Schakowsky, Eric Swalwell, Rashida Tlaib, Nydia Velázquez, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Peter Welch.
Biden advocates for marjiuana decriminalization, not legalization, and has repeatedly called for treatment instead of incarceration, and more research into cannabis' health benefits and hazards. Expect to see additional flare-ups like these as Biden and the White House attempt to navigate the progressive drug-policy-reform agenda.
This article was posted on March 19. It has been updated.