Yesterday evening the Daily Beast reported that the Biden Administration had fired, suspended, or forced out “dozens” of young White House staffers for smoking marijuana.
The Beast’s full story has great detail and a lot of reporting, so before I aggregate some of the bits I want to discuss, the whole thing is here.
There are many parts of this to get mad about: the staffers were largely young, and some of them were even punished for cannabis use that occurred in one of the 14 states (and D.C.!) where weed is legal. White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that only five current staffers had been fired; presumably, the rest of the Beast’s sources are staffers who were suspended, resigned, or flunked out of positions after admitting to weed use.
Government employees seeking a security clearance — something that’s common for workers in the West Wing — are required to fill out a 136-page SF-86 form, which is an intensely thorough questionnaire about their background. Lying on it is a felony, so people generally tend to cop to their sins, especially when they’re something trivial like, say, smoking pot, which the Biden administration had previously said would be no big deal. From the Beast:
The White House said in February it intended—for some candidates—to waive the requirement that all potential appointees in the Executive Office of the President be able to obtain a “top secret” clearance. The rules about past marijuana use and eligibility for the clearance vary, depending on the agency: For the FBI, an applicant can’t have used marijuana in the past three years; at the NSA, it’s only one. The White House, however, largely calls its own shots, and officials at the time told NBC News that as long as past use was “limited” and the candidate wasn’t pursuing a position that required a security clearance, past use may be excused.
The White House then gave this statement to the Beast.
“The White House’s policy will maintain the absolute highest standards for service in government that the president expects from his administration, while acknowledging the reality that state and local marijuana laws have changed significantly across the country in recent years,” the spokesperson added. “This decision was made following intensive consultation with career security officials and will 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.”
Firing or punishing people for something that is legal all over the country, including the place where the White House actually sits, is clearly needlessly punitive and stupid. It’s so dumb, in fact, that it feels like a completely unforced error even considering that the president is Joe Biden—a 78-year-old man who was at the forefront of the disastrous war on drugs and who reportedly blocked an effort to make marijuana legalization an official part of the Democratic Party platform.
The big and infuriating question that remains, in my opinion, is what exactly the White House’s standards on marijuana are. As the Beast reports above, various agencies have their own thresholds for how recently you can have smoked the reefer before getting hired. All of the Biden administration’s statements until this point indicated that they would be lenient on weed. I suppose there’s an outside chance that the five White House staffers got canned for like, hotboxing the Lincoln Bedroom or something, but outside of that, it’s a little hard to imagine any coherent threshold where marijuana use crosses from “innocent” to “security risk,” unless you’re like a bowl-an-hour smoker and your dealer is a 45-year-old Russian guy who never tells you his real first name.
The point is we don’t know, and neither did the staffers who got fired. The White House press team didn’t respond to my request for additional comment, but I’ll slot an update in here if they do. What we do know, of course, is that Kamala Harris has admitted to smoking weed. Granted, again, she might have just been lying to look like less of a cop in front of Charlamagne Tha God, but we have to take her at her word here. She’s not a security risk. Presumably the young White House staffers who were fired had imbibed the devil’s lettuce a bit more recently than the Vice President, but functionally their crime here was the same.
The situation, therefore, is that dozens of young aspiring public servants sought a job in the administration in good faith, believing they were eligible due to the President’s widely-publicized statements about marijuana use. Their only mistake was taking the government at its word.