BIDEN ADMINISTRATION “NO MORE CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR MARIJUANA USE NATIONALLY”
March 30, 2021
By: NATHANIEL BALLANTYNE
TRUENEWSBLOG- The Biden administration reiterated today that it wants to end criminal penalties for marijuana use nationally. That hasn’t stopped it from penalizing people who want to join the administration for past pot use, however.
Responding to a Daily Beast story earlier this month, White House press secretary JEN PSAKI stated that, “of the hundreds of people hired” by the White House “only five people who had started working…are no longer employed as a result of this policy.” But that’s an incomplete picture of the situation.
Other staffers have been told they had White House positions — including at least one that was publicly announced — only to have the offers withdrawn before they officially began working, according to people familiar with the matter.
And that’s just at the White House. Various departments and agencies within the Biden administration, which have their own rules around hiring, have also penalized applicants for past marijuana use.
“It’s dismaying to me that there’s so much work that needs to get done right now to build the country back, and yet eating a pot brownie a couple of months ago (at the height of everyone staying at home during the pandemic) seems to have outweighed people’s talent, eagerness, and dedication to public service in the eyes of the administration,” said a person who had a conditional position at a department withdrawn because of a violation.
“There’s serious policy implementation work that could be happening right now that unfortunately isn’t.”
Fellow Democrats say the policy of the administration writ-large is antiquated and overly punitive.
“The White House and the administration have made this a godawful process,” said one senior Democratic campaign operative, who personally knows four political appointees who have been denied clearance for jobs in four separate departments. “I know a lot of these people who worked their ass off for him to get him elected in the middle of the pandemic who are now unemployed.”
It’s the latest example of the federal government and JOE BIDEN himself lagging behind the changing cultural norms on cannabis use and laws surrounding it.
For much of his career, Biden was an avid backer of the war on drugs but during the 2020 campaign he sought distance from that period of his career and came out in favor of decriminalization during the primary . It was a step towards prevailing public sentiment around weed, but it fell short of where many others in the party are, which is for legalization.
The executive branch has screened out marijuana users since RONALD REAGAN implemented the policy in 1986. The Biden White House’s rules on marijuana are the most lenient of any administration since then, and aides note that it doesn’t automatically disqualify applicants for past marijuana use.
The White House also claims that about a dozen White House staffers and about 20 political appointees at agencies wouldn’t have been able to work under previous administrations’ cannabis policies. A spokesperson said that no White House staffer has been let go for casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months. They didn’t define “casual use” but the Associated Press reported that the White House’s policy allows for up to 15 past uses in a year.
They declined, however, to say how many people’s job offers in the White House or the broader administration had been revoked or changed because of the current policies. The Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, and Justice departments declined to comment or did not provide a response on how many people had job offers rescinded or been fired for past marijuana use.
A Health and Human Service Department spokesperson said that no political appointee has had a conditional offer rescinded or has been fired because of past marijuana use. Of the five who were fired, anonymous White House officials said at least three used harder drugs as well.
Transition Playbook found that positions at the Department of Homeland Security related to national security issues and the Treasury Department have been affected, according to people familiar with the matter.
Under current guidelines, federal agencies have an enormous amount of discretion over whether or how much they will emphasize previous marijuana use.
The White House does have the power to create clearer guidelines for the rest of the executive branch, which would take precedence over agency discretion.
In early February, the Biden administration’s Office of Personnel Management issued guidance instructing federal agencies to not automatically deny employment based on prior cannabis use.
The memo said screeners should take into account how recently marijuana was used, the nature of the position, and whether the applicant is making “efforts toward rehabilitation” when deciding if weed use is disqualifying. The OPM guidance is broad, and it allows agencies to assess each applicant based on the “security” nature of each role, which ultimately gives agencies the discretion to continue to deny employment based on pot use.
The White House argued that their language wasn’t precise because it applies to dozens of agencies with different missions and security sensitivities, but they felt the message was clear: to expand eligibility.
Employees with security clearances have additional hoops they must jump through including a more stringent drug policy. That has affected White House employees in particular who have to be eligible for a security clearance to work in the White House complex.
As a result, the White House said it has provided some limited exceptions for employees in the executive office of the president from the Top Secret-eligible requirement. That exception is available for people with limited marijuana use in the past year and who are in jobs that don’t require a security clearance.
Appointees who qualified for that exception are currently working remotely until their prior marijuana usage falls below the required standards.
The battle over marijuana has long been a point of contention between Biden and the left-wing of the party. As part of a criminal justice “unity” task force formed after the 2020 primary, Biden and BERNIE SANDERS representatives debated whether the Democratic platform should endorse full legalization of recreational use. Ultimately, the platform called for decriminalizing marijuana and rescheduling it through executive actions and legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level.
Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager FAIZ SHAKIR said the decision to promise decriminalization and rescheduling versus full legalization came down to Biden himself and not the members of the panel representing the former vice president.
“If you had kind of a straw vote that was private, that wouldn’t get out, it would have probably been 8-0 on this matter,” said Shakir. “And yet you have this bizarre situation where the head of the Democratic party, Joe Biden, has a stance that’s discordant with them. He’s holding a lot of people back here.”