Five White House staffers were relieved of their positions earlier this month as a result of previous drug use. The firing happened only weeks after the Biden administration promised to relax cannabis policies in order to modernize and increase the pool of people who can work there.
On Friday, officials disputed a story in the Daily Beast that “dozens” of employees had lost their jobs or been forced to work remotely because of their previous marijuana use, claiming that the number was only about a handful. Officials added that some of the fired employees had other security concerns, such as hard drug use.
Just five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this proposal, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who tweeted on Friday.
The positions and identities of those who were fired were not revealed.
While the White House has not issued any formal guidelines on the new policy, an official told NBC last month that previous marijuana usage would not automatically disqualify employees.
Normally, White House staffers must have top-secret security clearance, which can be revoked if they use drugs.
As a workaround, employees who have only used marijuana on a “limited” basis and have jobs that don’t require clearance will receive a waiver to work without it.
Staffers are not allowed to use marijuana or have used it more than once or twice a year, according to the policy. The Associated Press says “restricted” marijuana usage is less than 15 times in the previous year.
Officials said that employees who have clearance exemptions are subjected to extra rules and oversight. They must promise to abstain from using marijuana while working for the government and consent to periodic drug tests.
Employees may also be required to work from home before they meet clearance requirements.
Adam Eidinger, the co-founder of DC Marijuana Justice, told BuzzFeed News that the firings were “outrageous,” adding that there’s no proof that staffers smoking marijuana in their spare time influences their work performance.
“You should only be looking at someone’s job performance to determine whether they are qualified to work in a place,” said Eidinger. “Not whether they used marijuana in the past or are currently using it.”
Even though the Biden administration has allegedly been more permissive of cannabis than previous presidential administrations, the terminations have been widely criticized. Particularly because marijuana has been legal in Washington D.C. for more than five years.
Many local and national pro-legalization activists are criticizing the White House’s conduct.
Disciplining workers for using marijuana outside of work hours sets a dangerous and hypocritical precedent, according to National Cannabis Industry Association spokeswoman Morgan Fox, who talked to BuzzFeed News on behalf of the organization.
“It’s definitely sending the wrong message, not just to federal employers, but to policymakers and private sector employers around the country,” Fox said. “It kind of reinforces the false notion that cannabis is a detractor from somebody’s ability to do difficult jobs with a lot of responsibility.”
“Just look at the fact that three of the five last presidents have admitted to past cannabis use,” Fox said, “including Biden’s former boss.”