Lawmakers seek clarity on hazy White House pot policy
- By Natalie Alms
- Mar 25, 2021
Past use of pot shouldn't make executive branch employees subject to negative employment actions, 30 House Democrats told President Joe Biden.
Some Biden White House staffers have been subject to suspensions, placement on remote work and been asked to resign after disclosing past marijuana use since the start of the administration. The Daily Beastfirst reported the personnel actions last week, saying that this had happened to dozens of employees.
Five employees have been terminated, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
On Thursday, a group of 30 lawmakers wrote to the White House asking the president to undo these actions and take steps to prevent similar occurrences. The letter was led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
"We ask that you clarify your employment suitability policies, remove past cannabis use as a potential disqualifier, and apply these policies with consistency and fairness," they wrote, saying that they were "dismayed."
The administration had previously signaled that it would waive the usual rules that keep appointees with a history of pot from getting some security clearances, the lawmakers wrote.
Last month, OPM issued guidance on marijuana use. The office instructed agencies to treat previous use of the drug on a case-by-case basis, although continued use can still be a disqualifier. Pot is still illegal under federal law despite movement toward some legalization or decriminalization in states. A Reagan administration executive order on drug-free workplaces, which says that those using illegal drugs "are not suitable for federal employment" is still on the books.
The lawmakers, however, pointed to the legalization of cannabis for adults or medical use in 36 states, including recent legalization via ballot initiatives.
"The American people are demanding a change to punitive and harsh cannabis laws that have always been unequally applied," they wrote.
The lawmakers also pointed to the admission of former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to using pot in the past.
"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," they wrote. "Your administration should act within its power to stop legitimizing unfair cannabis laws."
The former staffers who were fired had also raised "other security issues," Psaki said on Wednesday.
She pointed to the illegal status of marijuana use on a federal level when asked about why the president can't unilaterally change policies. Psaki also said that the administration has current employees who wouldn't have been able to serve under the policies of previous administrations.
"Because of our efforts to modernize and work with the security service, they're able to serve," she said. "In the past – and I served in the Obama-Biden administration – the rules were actually far more stringent."
Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.