A Republican congressman sent a letter calling on President Joe Biden to direct his administration stop firing White House staff for admitting to prior marijuana use and instead rehire people who were asked to resign solely for being honest about their history with cannabis.
A separate letter from multiple lawmakers is expected to be delivered to the White House this week, seeking clarification on the administration’s marijuana employment policy.
Meanwhile, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (CCC), pointed out in his new letter that numerous states have moved to legalize marijuana in some form, overturning “decades-long policies that are both arcane and discriminatory.” He added that “when used correctly and responsibly, cannabis has many proven health benefits.”
The opioid crisis and COVID-19 pandemic further underscore why “we should be encouraging these therapies, not finding ways to further stigmatize and disenfranchise them,” he wrote on Monday.
That’s effectively what the Biden administration is reported to have done by firing, suspending or placing in a remote work program dozens of mostly young staff who admitted to prior marijuana use on a federal form that’s required in the background check process.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said only five people lost their jobs over cannabis but did not speak to suspensions or other punishments.
In any case, Joyce said that “aside from the obvious impact to the employees in question, I am also concerned about the message the federal government is sending by penalizing those who chose to be forthcoming and truthful.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
“Moving forward, I encourage your administration to focus its efforts within cannabis on establishing an effective federal regulatory framework which recognizes that continued cannabis prohibition is neither tenable nor the will of the American electorate,” he added. “I stand ready and willing to work with you in this regard.”
Joyce said at the beginning of the letter that it’s “my understanding that your administration has begun to remedy this matter and I appreciate your efforts in that regard.” A spokesperson told Marijuana Moment that the sentence refers to the White House press secretary’s “confirmation that the WH continues to employ [some] workers who admitted to past use.”
The administration reportedly instituted a policy of granting waivers to certain workers who admit to prior cannabis use prior to news that the firings had occurred, but it’s uncertain what steps have been taken since the controversy unfolded.
While Joyce is a CCC co-chair who has advocated for various marijuana reforms, advocates have also pointed out that he voted against a comprehensive legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, last year.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the CCC, 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.
The congressman plans to send a letter of his own to the president outlining his concerns about the adverse action White House staff have faced over previous cannabis use. It will ask Biden to “clarify [the White House’s] employment suitability policies, remove past cannabis use as a potential disqualifier, and apply these polices with consistency and fairness,” a spokesperson for his office told Marijuana Moment.
Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Don Beyer (D-VA), Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) are among those who will be joining the congressman on the letter, which is expected to be sent in the coming days.
Separately, Lee has requested a meeting with the administration to discuss federal marijuana issues, and she said she will be bringing up the White House cannabis employment policy.
It’s not clear at this point whether forthcoming congressional legalization legislation would remove marijuana as a negative criteria in federal employment decisions, however, as a bill that the House passed last year maintained that cannabis could still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.
Biden personally opposes adult-use legalization but has backed more modest reforms such as legalizing for medical use, expunging prior cannabis records, rescheduling marijuana and allowing states to set their own policies.
Outside of the White House, the Office of Personnel Management said in a recent memo distributed to federal agencies that admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.
Read Joyce’s letter to Biden on the marijuana-related White House firings below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.