President Joe Biden’s Office of Personnel Management made public that previous marijuana use would not disqualify someone from being able to work at the White House. Now, the administration seems to be diverting from that route.
The White House's Statement
The White House said it wanted to make an effort to adjust its policy because it would inherently disproportionately affect younger employees. It required applicants to go through a background check and fill out a questionnaire that asked about previous drug use, but multiple people have said the policy regarding marijuana was not made clear to them before they filled out their applications.
The Daily Beast points out, Psaki’s statement didn’t note how many people had been disqualified for a job in the White House before having started work there. She also didn’t say how many people were suspended or relocated to work remotely. With the White House’s new policy, applicants were being reviewed on a case-by-case basis, so the Personnel Security Division could find out the nature and seriousness of the past cannabis use, to determine whether it would conflict with access to the applicant’s security clearance.
The plan was to grant individual waivers for people who promise to adhere to random drug testing to ensure they do not repeat any use of drugs the federal government considers illicit. Anyone who used the drug extensively would be disqualified from a waiver, the White House said. “OPM’s suitability regulations regarding illegal drug use do not permit agencies to automatically find individuals unsuitable for federal service on the basis of marijuana use prior to appointment,” the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM)’s recommendation read, noting that nearly half of American say they have used marijuana at some point in their lives.
The individual review also took into account the specific job the applicant was vying for. For instance, if they weren’t seeking out a higher level of security clearance, their use of marijuana might matter less. FOX News has seized on the firing of 5 employees and the dismissal of other applicants as a show of hypocrisy from the Biden administration.
Despite that, some staffers were let go because after admitting the marijuana use on their background checks. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says that the number was limited to five. “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,” said Psaki on Twitter. “As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” Psaki continued.
“The bottom line is this: of the hundreds of people hired, only five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy.” But the Daily Beast’s reporting conflicts with that statement, saying not just that five people were let go, but in fact, dozens of White House staffers were suspended, asked to resign, or placed in a remote work program as a result of their admission to having used cannabis in the past. That held true even for people who used recreational cannabis in an area of the United States where it is legal, which includes 14 states and Washington, D.C.
Policies of Government Agencies
Different government agencies have varying rules on what they’ll forgive when it comes to cannabis. With the Federal Bureau of Investigations, workers cannot use marijuana, and FBI-hopefuls are disqualified if they’ve used the product within three years of submitting their applications. Before the policy was enacted in 2007, the previous guidance said anyone who smoked pot 15 times or more throughout their lifetime was not eligible. However, the FBI is considering loosening its restrictions on the use of CBD oil.
The National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency both say applicants cannot have used marijuana in the past year. The CIA has made clear it does not think prior drug use is inherently bad. But, the CIA said in an article it posted on its website, “A willingness to break federal law to engage in illicit drug use can be used as a measure of someone’s fitness to hold a security clearance. It should be noted that drug use and abuse is one of the most common reasons applicants are denied a security clearance.”
Presidents Past Marijuana Use
Despite marijuana’s illegal status, numerous high-level politicians have admitted to using it in the past. The first president to do so was Bill Clinton, who said in 1992, “When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana time or two and I didn't like it. And didn't inhale and never tried to give.” The 42nd president maintains he has never broken a state law, because he was not in the country when he used marijuana – although the product is still illegal in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, President Clinton’s Vice President, Al Gore, had admitted to smoking pot in the 1970s. Vice President Gore described his marijuana use as a rare occasion, but various friends of his have described it as more frequent than that. President George W. Bush admitted in a 1998 secretly-taped conversation with one of his friends and a former aide to his father, Doug Wead.
In it, the man who would later become the 44th president says, "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried." President Bush had acknowledged a drinking problem multiple times before, and withstood allegations during his campaign that he’d used cocaine in college. During a Republican debate in 2015, the former president’s brother, Jeb Bush, admitted to using marijuana 40 years prior.
Afterward, he tweeted, “Sorry Mom.” President George W. Bush also criticized Vice President Al Gore for admitting to his use of cannabis. "Baby boomers have got to grow up and say, yeah, I may have done drugs, but instead of admitting it, say to kids, don't do them," the 43rd president says in Wead’s recordings. Wead says he taped the conversations because he viewed Bush as a historical figure.
President Barack Obama has openly admitted to using marijuana and has stated he doesn’t believe it’s more dangerous than alcohol. "As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life," said the 44th president. Former First Lady Michelle Obama also admitted to having used marijuana in the past, and wrote a passage about her husband having done so in his youth “in the lush volcanic foothills of Oahu.”