Despite repeated calls to stop penalizing staffers for being honest about past marijuana use, the Biden administration made clear on Monday that people who want to even intern at the White House will be required to disclose prior drug use—including any cannabis consumption that was legal under state law—and they could be denied eligibility over it.
Intern applicants who advance through the hiring process will have to fill out a security clearance form, according to a new FAQ for the White House Internship Program.
Information submitted through that form that “could affect eligibility” includes past drug use—”including marijuana, regardless of whether the marijuana use was permitted under state law,” the FAQ, posted on the White House website this week, says.
Early in his administration, the Biden White House came under sharp criticism over reports that staffers were being terminated or otherwise penalized for admitting to using marijuana as part of a background check process.
The newly posted FAQ’s clarification on cannabis reaffirms that the White House under Biden continues to view prior marijuana use as grounds for ineligibility to work in the executive branch, even at the intern level.
Marijuana Moment reached out to the White House for comment, but a representative did not immediately respond.
President Joe Biden has long opposed the legalization of cannabis. Minutes after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and colleagues unveiled a much-anticipated draft marijuana legalization bill last year, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the president hasn’t changed his position on maintaining federal prohibition.
During his presidential campaign in 2020, Biden did run on a pledge to enact modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis possession, expunging prior records and respecting the rights of states to set their own laws. Since taking office, however, his administration has not made progress on any of those promises and has instead fired its own White House staffers over marijuana and sought to extend a budget provision that has blocked Washington, D.C. from legalizing cannabis sales.
Psaki previously attempted to minimize the fallout of the White House personnel policy, without much success, and her office also stressed 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.” However, she 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 the federal background check form.
For what it’s worth, a poll released in January found that more than half of Americans feel that Biden made little to no progress on his campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana during his first year in office—and most people also aren’t betting on him doing more to advance the reform in 2022.
Biden did take some by surprise by suggesting that international sports rules on marijuana may need to be reevaluated after a star U.S. runner was suspended following a positive cannabis test. But that’s a far cry from endorsing comprehensive reform.
Advocates also celebrated a move by the administration earlier this year when Biden granted clemency to dozens of people with non-violent federal drug convictions on their records.
Biden has received about a dozen letters from lawmakers, advocates, celebrities and people impacted by criminalization to do something about the people who remain behind federal bars over cannabis. After months of inaction, some members of Congress like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have even sent follow-up letters demanding a response.
Among those pushing for reform is Weldon Angelos, who received a president pardon from Trump in 2020 and has since become a key advocate for criminal justice reform who has worked with both the Trump and Biden administration of furthering relief.
A report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) last year affirmed that the president has it within his power to grant mass pardons for cannabis offenses. It also said that the administration can move to federally legalize cannabis without waiting for lawmakers to act.
Vice President Kamala Harris, for her part, said last year that the Biden administration isn’t focused on following through on its marijuana reform pledges because it’s too overwhelmed with other issues.
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