A number of young, White House staffers were asked to resign, suspended, or moved to remote work locations as a result of an archaic policy which aims to demonize workers over past marijuana use.
The employment shakeups in the Biden White House points to a larger problem and rooted fears that the incoming administration may not be as progressive as once thought. The move also contradicts the trajectory of the national collective, who widely support the legalization of marijuana.
In America 14 states have legalized marijuana usage including Washington, D.C, where the White House is located. A November Gallup poll showed that 68 percent of adults in the U.S. support the legalization of marijuana. As public support increases, Black and brown communities are routinely criminalized at disproportionate rates, even though usage among different populations remains similar or higher.
A staffer who spoke with The Daily Beast under anonymity said that former employees weren’t fully made aware of the White House policy on past use.
“The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained,” the ex-staffer told the outlet.
The move also reportedly shook the confidence of former staffers who say the were informally told by higher-ups that past use would not immediately disqualify them for said positions. The total number of staffers who were sidelined is unknown.
In a statement to The Daily Beast White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the White House policy on Friday and said that only five people were let go as a result of past use. Her statement doesn’t include a comment on the number of individuals who never made it to the next phase of the hiring process after admitting use.
“In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use. While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated,” Psaki said.
“We announced a few weeks ago that the White House had worked with the security service to update the policies to ensure that past marijuana use wouldn’t automatically disqualify staff from serving in the White House,” she tweeted. “As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use.”
In February the White House said it was open to waive or review case-by-case a requirement that all potential appointees in the Executive office of the President be able to obtain top secret clearance.
The White House policy on marijuana lends itself to an outdated frame of thinking that connects usage with criminality, lack of morals and character. The war on drugs movement helped to frame this narrative, constructed to build policy which would legalize the repeated targeting and arrests of Black and brown community members.
Interestingly Biden, with a career spanning almost five decades, played a large part in the efforts which ramped up the war on drugs, especially during his time as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I still believe it’s a gateway drug,” Biden told ABC News in 2010 as vice president. “I’ve spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize.”
While he’s reversed course on some of his past outdated beliefs, the recent firings show his stance on the criminalization of marijuana might be harder for him to shake.