President Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana legalization “has not changed,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
Asked whether the president supports efforts by Democratic senators to end federal cannabis prohibition, Psaki said Biden “spoke about this on the campaign” and that he “believes in decriminalizing the use of marijuana, but his position has not changed” on broader reform.
She seems to be indirectly saying that Biden wouldn’t support the bill being drafted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
While the text of that legislation hasn’t been released, the expectation is that it will, at a minimum, federally deschedule marijuana. Biden, meanwhile, backs modestly rescheduling the plant, decriminalizing possession, legalizing medical cannabis, expunging prior marijuana records and letting states set their own policies.
Whether the president would veto a legalization bill if it arrived on his desk is another question.
Psaki’s latest comments come amid ongoing scrutiny of the administration’s employment policies with respect to cannabis.
A growing number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers have criticized the Biden administration’s decision to fire or otherwise punish dozens of staffers who admitted to prior marijuana use as part of their background check process.
A coalition of 30 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Biden last week that asks for clarification on the employment policy and urges that prior cannabis consumption no longer be used as a justification to disqualify people from serving in the federal government—especially since Vice President Kamala Harris and at least one one other Cabinet member are on record about their own marijuana use experiences.
“Those in the upper ranks of your administration won’t face consequences for their cannabis use, and nor should they, but the same standard should be applied across the administration,” the letter, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), states. “Repercussions for cannabis use have always been unequal and those with the most power have always faced the fewest consequences. We ask that you don’t allow that pattern to continue within your administration.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said in a statement to Marijuana Moment that the “federal government has completely screwed up marijuana reform.”
Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) sent a similar message to the president last week in a separate letter condemning news of the marijuana-related firings for people who disclosed their previous cannabis use.
“Simply put, in a nation where the truth is considered malleable, we need to demonstrate to our young public servants that telling the truth is an honorable trait, not one to be punished,” the congressman wrote. “I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts.”
Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment last week that “we still have a very uneven response” to marijuana use in the federal government and he considered the administration’s actions “antiquated” and inconsistent with the state-level reform movement.
Psaki has previously attempted to minimize the fallout, with not much success, and so her office released a new statement last week stipulating that nobody was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”
“The policy has allowed around a dozen White House staff to continue serving the in the administration who would not have permitted under prior administrations’ policies,” reads the statement, which was provided to Playboy reporter Brian Karem.
Only five White House employees have lost their jobs over prior cannabis consumption since Biden took over, Psaki has said. However, she’s consistently declined to speak to the extent to which staff have been suspended or placed in a remote work program because they were honest about their history with marijuana on a federal form that’s part of the background check process—and the new statement sheds no light on that.
The press secretary also argued last week that the Biden administration has instituted a more lax employment policy when it comes to previous cannabis use when compared to his predecessors. But while the president could unilaterally make it so prior marijuana consumption doesn’t justify termination, she signaled he wouldn’t do so unless Congress ends federal prohibition.