The Biden administration has reportedly asked dozens of White House staff to resign or otherwise punished them over past marijuana use—a response that one congressman described to Marijuana Moment as “antiquated” and inconsistent with the burgeoning legalization movement.
Despite earlier reporting that the administration had instituted a policy of granting waivers to certain workers who admit to prior cannabis use, sources familiar with the issue told The Daily Beast that dozens of staffers have been fired, suspended or placed in a remote work program after disclosing their previous consumption on a federal form that’s used as part of the background check process.
One person who has gone on the record about using marijuana in her youth but who has ostensibly not faced employment penalties is Vice President Kamala Harris, who joked about her own cannabis consumption during her 2020 presidential campaign. It’s a point that advocates were quick to pick up on after news about the marijuana-related firings broke.
Asked about the report on Friday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment that “we still have a very uneven response” to marijuana use in the federal government.
“One of the things that has happened with our efforts on legalization is that we are acknowledging that this is an antiquated response to an emerging issue,” he said. “People now understand how ubiquitous use of cannabis is for recreational use and for medical use, and it is something that involves well over 100 million Americans.”
“I think that you have blips like this occasionally—people sometimes get a little edgy—but this is going to be a thing of the past very soon. And our reform legislation that will be moving forward to will make clear that that’s not a basis for discrimination,” he added. “In fact, even people with past convictions dealing with cannabis will ultimately be able to be involved with the industry. This is part of an evolution. It’s taking place very quickly, and we’re watching changes in these policies as we speak.”
This is a vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair, and out of touch cannabis policies.https://t.co/ZWg7d5L8ne
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) March 19, 2021
This is where America is going and I hope they figure out a path forward that is fair and realistic.
In the meantime, young people shouldn't be singled out and discriminated against for something that is legal in much of the country and supported by the majority of Americans.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) March 19, 2021
It’s not clear at this point whether the forthcoming congressional 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.
The focus of lawmakers’ Friday call was on the reintroduction of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the House this week. That legislation, which would protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators, is being led by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who also weighed in on the Biden White House marijuana policy development.
The congressman told Marijuana Moment that while he hadn’t seen the news report, he is “sorry to hear that,” adding that it highlights the need for Congress to advance cannabis reform.
“We need to get the conflict between the federal and the state laws resolved because this does result in things like you just talked about,” he said. “And I think the first place we’re going to see real action and get it done because of the public safety and public health aspects will be on the SAFE Banking Act.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also addressed the controversy on Friday, pushing back on the extent of the firings over marijuana.
“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,” she said. “As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use. 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.”
As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use. 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.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) March 19, 2021
While five may have been terminated according to the White House, Psaki did not give figures on the number of people who faced suspensions or were asked to work remotely due to their cannabis use admission. The Daily Beast also noted that some of the adverse employment actions could have been because of inconsistencies in how people filled out their forms. For example, they may have misstated when they last used marijuana.
In any case, advocates maintain that any admission of cannabis use should not justify being penalized or prevented from working in the federal government, especially given that a majority of states have legalized marijuana in some form and given efforts in Congress to end federal prohibition.
Ben Rhodes, who served as national security adviser under President Barack Obama, reacted to the report by saying, “I have no idea if this is true, but I do know I served as a deputy national security advisor from 2009-2017 having acknowledged past marijuana use on my forms,” adding that it “would be wrong to punish people for something that is entirely normal and increasingly legal.”
This would also obviously disproportionately impact young people who are HONEST.
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) March 19, 2021
“This would also obviously disproportionately impact young people who are HONEST,” he said.
President Joe 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.
There was optimism about reports earlier this year that the White House had enacted a more lenient policy when it comes to employment eligibility for people who’ve used cannabis.
An administration official told NBC News that their guidelines “effectively protect our national security while modernizing policies to ensure that talented and otherwise well-qualified applicants with limited marijuana use will not be barred from serving the American people.”
Separately, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) 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.
Kansas Medical Marijuana Hearings Cancelled After Senate GOP Leader Reroutes House-Passed Bill
A House-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas seems to be in jeopardy, with GOP Senate leadership moving the legislation out of a committee and into a different panel where it may sit in legislative limbo, resulting in the cancellation of hearings that were scheduled to be held this week.
Advocates are concerned about the decision by Senate President Ty Masterson (R), who withdrew the cannabis reform legislation from the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee days before hearings were to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was then re-referred to the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee, which Masterson chairs and where the bill’s fate is unclear.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that medical marijuana legalization is off the table for Kansas in 2022, but it does seem to signal that the reform might need to be enacted through another vehicle, either in the legislature or at the ballot, as top Democratic lawmakers in the state are pursuing.
“We certainly hope that this action is just making sure that this bill meets any concerns that Senate leadership may have concerning this historic legislation,” Kevin Caldwell, a legislative manager at Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “This bill had widespread bipartisan support in the House last session. We hope Senate President Masterson quickly holds a committee hearing and advances this legislation.”
When the proposal was being advanced in the House last year during the first half of the two-year session, members amended an unrelated bill that previously cleared the Senate to make it the chamber’s vehicle for the policy change. Because of that, it was ruled “materially changed” last May and sent to the Senate for committee consideration.
Now there’s a question of whether lawmakers will be motivated to introduce another separate bill and try to move it through both chambers, requiring another House vote. The Senate president seemed to temper expectations in recent remarks, telling The Kansas City Star that “not a single member” of his caucus has expressed that the issue “was important to them.”
That’s not how Kansas Democrats feel, however. House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said this month that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state. At the time, Sawyer said he was “hopeful” that the legislature might separately advance the House-passed legalization measure.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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“The people of Kansas deserve to know if senators support the overwhelming majority of people who want to alleviate patients’ suffering with a medical cannabis program,” MPP’s Caldwell said. “Now is the time to show compassion to their fellow citizens and vote this bill out of committee.”
“Kansas is one of fourteen states left without a medical cannabis program,” he said. “We have faith that the Kansas Senate will pass this legislation this session and this is just another step in that process.”
Michael Pirner, Masterson’s communications director, told the Star that “medical marijuana legislation is not a priority of Senate leadership,” but did signal the issue may still be considered before the year is over.
“The subject matter has clearly matured and we expect it to be considered at some level this session,” he said. “There are many more pressing topics on the Senate agenda.”
The bill as drafted contains several significant restrictions, including a ban on smokeable cannabis. Members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee did get a briefing on the issue at a meeting last week ahead of the expected, now-cancelled formal hearings before the panel.
Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment that the Democratic leaders are proposing would provide for a more comprehensive program that lawmakers would need to implement.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said at a briefing with reporters on Friday that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”
She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says He’s ‘Gonna Get That Darn Thing Passed’ Before Leaving Office
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, but he says that he’s going to work to pass his marijuana banking bill before his time on Capitol Hill comes to an end.
The congressman spoke to Colorado Public Radio last week about his decision not to run for reelection this November and his disappointment that, while the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act five times now in some form, the Senate has failed to advance it under both Republican and Democratic leadership.
“That one still has me pretty irritated,” Perlmutter said, referring to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has effectively blocked his bipartisan legislation. When there was a GOP Senate majority, he was told the bill was “too big and too broad.” Then with a Democratic majority, he’s told that it’s “too narrow and too limited.”
Schumer and his colleagues who are working on a federal legalization bill have repeatedly said that they do not want to see the SAFE Banking Act pass before comprehensive reform is enacted that addresses equity issues. Supporters of the banking bill argue that the incremental policy change is necessary for promote public safety and, importantly, it stands a much stronger chance of getting to the president’s desk with bipartisan support.
Nonetheless, Perlmutter said he plans to spend his remaining months in office pushing to get the job done.
“I have not given up on that one,” he said. “I’m gonna get that darn thing passed this year while I still serve out my term.”
Listen to Perlmutter discuss the marijuana banking legislation, starting around 10:24 into the audio below:
Asked whether he thinks President Joe Biden would be inclined to sign the measure if it did get to his desk, the congressman said “absolutely.”
“Treasury Secretary [Janet] Yellen is somebody who has been talking to me about this for years,” he said. “I feel very good that it would pass. We’re at 47 states that have some level of marijuana use, all the territories and District of Columbia, and they need to have legitimate banking services.”
“It’s just a no brainer in my opinion,” he said. “And yeah, I’m a little bit irritated, but we’re gonna keep working on it and get it passed this year.”
The last attempt that Perlmutter made to enact the reform was by adding its language to a must-pass defense bill, but it was ultimately sidelined following bicameral negotiations and did not make it into the final version. The congressman told Marijuana Moment last month that he sees other potential vehicles to advance the bill and has spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about it.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
Top Federal Drug Official Says ‘Train Has Left The Station’ On Psychedelics As Reform Movement Spreads
A top federal drug official says the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
The comments came at a psychedelics workshop Volkow’s agency cohosted with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) last week.
The NIDA official said that, to an extent, it’s been overwhelming to address new drug trends in the psychedelics space. But at the same time, she sees “an incredible opportunity to also modify the way that we are doing things.”
“What is it that the [National Institutes of Health] can do to help accelerate research in this field so that we can truly understand what are the potentials, and ultimately the application, of interventions that are bought based on psychedelic drugs?” Volkow said.
The director separately told Marijuana Moment on Friday in an emailed statement that part of the challenge for the agency and researchers is the fact that psychedelics are strictly prohibited as Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“Researchers must obtain a Schedule I registration which, unlike obtaining registrations for Schedule II substances (which include fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine), is administratively challenging and time consuming,” she said. “This process may deter some scientists from conducting research on Schedule I drugs.”
“In response to concerns from researchers, NIDA is involved in interagency discussions to facilitate research on Schedule I substances,” Volkow said, adding that the agency is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
“It will also be important to streamline the process of obtaining Schedule I registrations to further the science on these substances, including examining their therapeutic potential,” she said.
At Thursday’s event, the official talked about how recent, federally funded surveys showed that fewer college-aged adults are drinking alcohol and are instead opting for psychedelics and marijuana. She discussed the findings in an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment as well.
Don't miss out on the @NIDAnews, @NIAAAnews, & @NIMHgov-sponsored virtual Workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics: Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities, Jan. 12‒13, 2022. Learn more and register: https://t.co/S1zttkoYXq pic.twitter.com/C2Qrk6FN9a
— NIDAnews (@NIDAnews) January 10, 2022
“Let’s learn from history,” she said. “Let’s see what we have learned from the marijuana experience.”
While studies have found that marijuana use among young people has generally remained stable or decreased amid the legalization movement, there has been an increase in cannabis consumption among adults, she said. And “this is likely to happen [with psychedelics] as more and more attention is placed on these psychedelic drugs.”
“I think, to a certain extent, with all the attention that the psychedelic drugs have attracted, the train has left the station and that people are going to start to use it,” Volkow said. “People are going to start to use it whether [the Food and Drug Administration] approves or not.
There are numerous states and localities where psychedelics reform is being explored and pursued both legislatively and through ballot initiative processes.
On Wednesday—during the first part of the two-day federal event that saw nearly 4,000 registrants across 21 time zones—NIMH Director Joshua Gordon stressed that his agency has “been supporting research on psychedelics for some time.”
Tune in today and tomorrow for the @NIH workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics, which will examine findings on psychoplastogens for treating depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance and alcohol use disorders. https://t.co/Qzxte5xJt9
— Joshua A. Gordon (@NIMHDirector) January 12, 2022
“We can think of NIMH’s interests in studying psychedelics both in terms of proving that they work and also in terms of demonstrating the mechanism by which they work,” he said. “NIMH has a range of different funding opportunity announcements and other expressions that are priorities aimed at a mechanistic focus and mechanistic approach to drug development.”
Meanwhile, Volkow also made connections between psychedelics and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. She said, for example, that survey data showing increased use of psychedelics “may be a way that people are using to try to escape” the situation.
But she also drew a metaphor, saying that just as how the pandemic “forced” federal health officials to accelerate the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines because of the “urgency of the situation,” one could argue that “actually there is an urgency to bring treatments [such as emerging psychedelic medicines] for people that are suffering from severe mental illness which can be devastating.”
But as Volkow has pointed out, the Schedule I classification of these substances under federal law inhibits such research and development.
The official has also repeatedly highlighted and criticized the racial disparities in drug criminalization enforcement overall.