The White House said Friday that five staffers are no longer with the Biden administration because of their past marijuana use after dozens were reported to have been fired or otherwise disciplined.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki characterized the handful of former staffers as a fraction of the hundreds of people hired by the administration since President Biden was elected to office.
The revelation nonetheless drew criticism from other Democrats, including some of Mr. Biden’s former colleagues in the Obama administration, while also highlighting conflicting drug laws and policies.
Marijuana has long been illegal under federal law, in turn making usage past or present a potentially disqualifying factor for individuals applying to obtain a security clearance or government job.
A growing number of states have legalized marijuana in recent years, however, and polling suggests a majority of Americans support ending federal prohibition entirely.
The White House said last month that it put in place new policies that meant individuals would not be necessarily barred from serving in the administration just for acknowledging past marijuana use.
But citing three unnamed sources, The Daily Beast reported Thursday that “dozens” of White House staffers have been either suspended, asked to resign or placed in a remote work program for past use.
Tommy Vietor, a former spokesperson for the Obama administration when Mr. Biden was vice president, told The Beast he found it “absurd” that clearance applicants are still asked about marijuana use.
“It would be wrong to punish people for something that is entirely normal and increasingly legal,” fellow Obama alum Ben Rhode added on Twitter.
Marianne Williamson, an author who briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination ultimately won by Mr. Biden in 2020, called the new “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” meanwhile.
“People get government jobs who supported bombing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, but they get fired for having smoked marijuana,” Ms. Williamson tweeted.
The White House weighed in on the report several hours after it was published when Ms. Psaki took to Twitter to say that a small number of Biden officials have been let go for past marijuana use.
“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. As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” Ms. Psaki said in a series of tweets Friday morning.
“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,” Ms. Psaki tweeted.
Ms. Psaki did not mention in the social media posts if the administration had suspended or otherwise acted on any further White House staffers who may have acknowledging previously using marijuana.
She noted that “additional factors” were at play in many of the instances concerning the few people fired, The Associated Press reported late Friday.