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White House defends dismissal of staffers over marijuana use

The White House on Wednesday issued additional defense of its decision to dismiss five staffers due to the administration’s policy on past marijuana use, with press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiHarris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety, efficacy in SC event to kick off tour Biden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting MORE pointing out that using marijuana is “still illegal federally.” 

Psaki during a White House press briefing responded to questions on the Biden administration’s commitment to not automatically disqualify staff members for past marijuana use. 

The policy came under scrutiny last week after The Daily Beast reported that dozens of staffers had been turned away from the administration or put in remote work programs because of their past marijuana use. 

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Psaki last week responded to the report on Twitter, clarifying that only five staffers “who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy.”

Psaki on Wednesday said that the individuals were removed following a security review, in which, “for a number of them, there were other security issues that were raised.” 

“What we tried to do as an administration was work with the security service, who actually makes these determinations about suitability for serving in government,” adding that when she served under former President Obama’s administration, “the rules were actually far more stringent.” 

“So, that isn’t about anyone’s personal point of view,” Psaki continued. “It’s about working through the process, the history and modernizing and taking steps to address the fact that marijuana is legal in a number of states across the country ... [but] it is still illegal federally.” 

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President Biden’s press secretary added that while the decision to remove five staffers due to security concerns was “an unfortunate conclusion,” the administration tried to “enable additional members of the team who would not have been able to continue serving in past administrations to continue serving by updating our policy in coordination with the security service.” 

When asked if Biden could unilaterally bring back the five staffers regardless of their past marijuana use, Psaki said, “I think if marijuana was federally legal, that might be a different circumstance.” 

The new White House policy under Biden allows a waiver for potential appointees with past marijuana use who would need a high-level security clearance to work in the Executive Office of the President.

However, an official noted when the new policy was announced earlier this year that some individuals would not receive a waiver depending on the level of their past marijuana use. The policy also does not apply to hard drug use. 

The news of the marijuana-related firings at the White House prompted criticism, including among Democrats, with many pointing to Vice President Harris’s admission that she previously used marijuana and her comments in a 2019 interview that cannabis can “give a lot of people joy” and “we need more joy in the world.”