Recent guidelines brought flexibility in past marijuana use, allowing to be hired at the White House. However, some recent decisions to fire staffers question their credibility.
Marijuana is legal in 15 out of 52 U.S. states such as in California or Colorado. Also, 34 states accept marijuana as a medical use, which leaves only 8 states where cannabis is fully illegal.
However, smoking pot is still forbidden under federal laws. And it can therefore prevent from getting security clearance for working at the White House or U.S. federal agencies.
Not all White House staff need a security clearance, but every applicant needs to fill out a questionnaire. They need to inform their past use of drug which can be a disqualifying factor.
A more flexible approach to marijuana use
Earlier this year, the Office of Personnel Management director wrote a memo providing updated guidance on agencies’ considerations in regards to cannabis. “Past marijuana use, including recently discontinued marijuana use, should be viewed differently from ongoing marijuana use“. It brought some nuances to a 1986 executive order stating that “persons who use illegal drugs are not suitable for Federal employment“.
According to NBC, the administration sent guidelines so that “well-qualified applicants with limited marijuana use will not be barred from serving the American people”. To that effect, the administration could grant waivers to appointees with “limited” cannabis use if their positions don’t ultimately require a security clearance.
But according to the Daily Beast, several White House staffers have been “suspended, asked to resign, or placed in a remote work program due to past marijuana use“. In response, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that 5 persons left because of this policy. She also explained that additional factors played a role in the decision.
According to the New York Times, some of the officials who have informed about use of marijuana in the past are still permitted to work but they had to pledge they wouldn’t do it during their time working for the administration. They may also be submitted to random drug tests. Ms. Psaki didn’t address these instances.
Contradictions and interpretations of laws
The guidelines may seem to soften the regulation, they are still subject to interpretations.
The memo brings up additional consideration to the agencies such as the seriousness, the recency of the conduct or the age of the person at that time. But it doesn’t give more directions to the decisions to take.
For the FBI, recreational use of marijuana is allowed if it didn’t occur in the last 3 years while the NSA requires to stay clean for only a year. Under the Obama administrations, one couldn’t have smoked in the past 6 months, or with a limit to 2 or 3 times in the previous year, in order to work at the White House.
Barack Obama, who engaged in recreational use of marijuana during his youth, was still able to serve as U.S. President.
The situation is also clumsy for an administration that tries to be perceived as progressive but can fail to prove it. In his presidential campaign, President Biden proposed to erase convictions of past cannabis use.
But he doesn’t support decriminalization of marijuana as much as Vice President Kamala Harris is in favor of legalization.
The current situation also highlights contradictions between federal and state laws. For President Biden, decriminalization remains a decision to be made by states.
Nevertheless, the federal administration still remains a drug-free workplace.
Media sources and useful links:
- Biden White House Sandbags Staffers, Sidelines Dozens for Pot Use, The Daily Beast, March 2021, Free access
- Past marijuana use won’t automatically disqualify Biden White House staff, NBC News, February 2021, Free access
- Executive Order 12564–Drug-free Federal workplace, U.S. National Archives, Free access
- Assessing the Suitability of Applicants or Appointees on the Basis of Marijuana Use, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Free access
- Five Who Used Marijuana in Past Will Exit White House, Calling New Guidelines Into Question, The New York Times, March 2021, Free access