House Democrats call on Biden to ease policies on White House staffers’ marijuana use

March 25, 2021

Washington — A group of House Democrats are urging President Biden to relax the White House's employment policies regarding marijuana use in the wake of a report that several White House staffers were disciplined after disclosing past cannabis use.

In a letter to Mr. Biden dated Thursday, 30 Democratic lawmakers asked the president to clarify his employment suitability policies, remove past marijuana use as a possible disqualifier and apply the personnel policies "with consistency and fairness."

"While we work to deschedule cannabis legislatively, your administration should act within its power to stop legitimizing unfair cannabis laws," the lawmakers told Mr. Biden in their letter. "You have previously expressed your commitment to decriminalizing cannabis in acknowledgement that a cannabis conviction or even the stigma of cannabis use can ruin lives and prevent people from voting, gaining employment, and contributing to society. You can meet this moment and help end our failed punitive policy of cannabis prohibition."

Democrats Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Don Beyer of Virginia, Jared Huffman of California, Mondaire Jones of New York and Barbara Lee of California spearheaded the letter.

The request from the congressional Democrats comes after The Daily Beast reported that "dozens" of White House staffers have been suspended, asked to resign or placed in a remote work program after revealing their past cannabis use, even if their activity occurred in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. 

The Biden administration in February issued updated guidelines ensuring prior marijuana use wouldn't automatically disqualify staff from working in the White House, according to NBC News. White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted last week that as a result of the policy, just five staffers are no longer employed in the White House.

Still, the House Democrats told Mr. Biden they were "dismayed" to learn of the consequences for White House employees who disclosed past marijuana use and said the existing policies have been "applied in inconsistent and unfair ways."

Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, for example, have admitted to using marijuana in the past, as have Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete 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," the Democrats said. "Repercussions for cannabis use have always been unequal and those with the most power have always faced the fewest consequences."

Asked during Wednesday's press briefing about the White House workers disciplined for their past marijuana use, Psaki said the five staffers who lost their jobs had "other security issues that were raised" and noted marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

"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," she said of the Biden White House. "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 and taking steps to address the fact that marijuana is legal in a number of states across the country."

By:  Melissa Quinn
Source: CBS News