White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday five White House staffers were "no longer employed" over their use of marijuana as part of a vetting process for security clearance, as the Biden administration comes under fire over reports that numerous young staffers have been penalized for past marijuana use (including in states where it’s legal) even though they were told they wouldn’t be.
The Daily Beast first reported late Thursday "dozens of young White House staffers" had either been asked to resign, were suspended or put in a remote work program over their past marijuana use, despite earlier assurances past marijuana use wouldn't impact their employment.
Psaki did not directly respond to the report, but claimed in a tweet Friday five firings had come from "hundreds of people hired," and assured Americans the Biden administration had loosened existing policy on marijuana use.
The Biden administration changed the existing marijuana policy by allowing waivers on a case-by-case basis for potential staffers in the Executive Office of the President that wouldn't require them to go through the vetting process for a Top Secret security clearance, according to an NBC News report Psaki shared Friday.
What that did is allowed for the administration to hire staffers who had admitted to "limited" marijuana use, under the agreement they wouldn't use marijuana during their time in government and would agree to random drug testing.
A history of significant marijuana use could still disqualify staffers from a waiver, according to the report, and those hired would be required to work remotely for an unidentified amount of time after their last marijuana use.
WHAT WE DON'T KNOW
Psaki didn't specify whether anyone other than the five staffers had been suspended or otherwise penalized in any way as a result of the policy. The White House has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Forbes.
The White House reportedly made the change in vetting requirements as it was having difficulty filling positions given the massive number of Americans—and especially young people—who have used marijuana at least at some point in their lives. The Daily Beast reported some staffers were initially told their history of marijuana use would be overlooked only for them to later be asked to resign. Staffers also claimed they were never informed how much past usage the administration qualified as acceptable. It also reportedly did not matter if a staffer came from one of the 14 states where marijuana use is legal. It's also been legalized by the District of Columbia, but the drug officially remains illegal on a federal level.
President Joe Biden was largely expected to take a much more lenient approach than past administrations when it came to marijuana policy, as many Democrats push to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Biden also said during his campaign he supports decriminalizing marijuana.
52%. According to a 2017 Yahoo News and Marist poll, that's how many American adults have used marijuana at some point in their lives. The number of active users is much lower, though. A 2019 Gallup poll found about 12% of Americans regularly smoke marijuana, but that number jumped among those 18-29 (22%) and liberals (24%).