White House Action Against Past Post Use
Hypocritical is one word getting thrown around by the media to describe the White House firing staffers for past cannabis use. What's perhaps more interesting than the news itself is the rapid cacophony of criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike. The White House's actions have hit on a sensitive subject, but it has united politicians from across the political spectrum. Considering the wave of state-level legalization and favorable public opinion, the decision to fire five staffers for past experiences with marijuana is out of touch, and at worst disingenuous.
5 Staffers Fired, More Suspended or Placed on Remote Work
As first reported in the Daily Beast, dozens of White House staff have been fired, asked to resign, placed on leave, or are now working remotely because of previous experience with cannabis. According to reports, the new administration has chosen to continue asking about past cannabis use on staff security clearance forms. Most of the people in the firing line are young, and many are from states where cannabis is legal, as it is in Washington, DC.
In its reporting on this story, the Daily Beast discovered that many staffers were advised past use would be overlooked by the new administration, advice which may have encouraged their honesty on the security forms.
Yet, this honesty seems to have resulted in punishment and termination. As per one staffer interviewed, "The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained."
While the White House has suggested that those fired had other security concerns, it doesn't deny the actions it took against these staffers. As per a recent press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki defended the decision, explaining that cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. Psaki also indicated that dozens of staffers were still working at the White House because of a more lenient approach under Biden than in previous administrations. For the employees fired, there continues to be confusion about what sort of leniency has evolved.
The Current Administration's Stance on Cannabis
Although the cannabis sector was looking forward to a Democrat-led federal government and the expected progressive legislation on cannabis, it seems that the new administration is already failing. Biden has previously stated his opposition to legalizing cannabis at the federal level, even though more than two-thirds of Americans support marijuana legalization.
According to a 2019 Pew Survey, 78 percent of Democrat-leaning and 55 percent of Republican-leaning Americans support legalization in some capacity. After the 2020 Presidential election, there are now 36 states with programs for medical cannabis and 14 states with recreational access.
Instead of legalization, Biden indicated his support for decriminalization during the 2020 primaries. He was notably the only Democratic candidate that did not support legalization, defending his stance with outdated arguments, like his opinion that marijuana was still "a gateway drug."
Interestingly, at least one senior member of the Biden Administration is herself a former pot-smoker. Vice President Kamila Harris has stated in previous interviews that she did smoke marijuana, and what's more, she not only inhaled, she listened to Snoop Dog while doing so. She supported legalizing cannabis, but it's unclear how her stance will change within her new capacity.
Bipartisan Pushback Against Policy on Past Cannabis Use
According to Marijuana Movement, a growing number of politicians from both sides of the aisle have called on Biden to clarify the administration's policies around past marijuana use.
At the end of March 2021, a coalition of 30 Democratic representatives wrote a letter requesting specific definitions on what sorts of past use warrant firing, assignment to remote work, or suspension. Considering Harris's admission, the letter highlights the hypocrisy of the recent firings. According to Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), "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."
Criticism is also coming from Republicans. In a separate letter to Biden, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) wrote, "I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts."
Calls for Changes to Federal Policies on Cannabis
In today's divided world, it's almost shocking to see the widespread condemnation of Biden's recent firings of staffers with a history of cannabis use. Criticism is coming from all sides, and all news outlets, no matter their political standing.
In a rare moment, both sides of the aisle are united on changing federal policy on cannabis. Depending on how Biden chooses to address this controversy, it could be one of the first steps towards a brighter future for cannabis at the federal level.
In a clear signal to the cannabis industry, the majority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) held a news conference following the Senate policy luncheon on Capital Hill. Schumer has been a big proponent of marijuana legalization has been working with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) on new federal cannabis reform legislation. This past week, Schumer's home state of New York legalized maijuana for adults, after years of efforts. More than 40 percent of Americans now live in states that have embraced full legalization.
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