White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Wednesday why White House staffers were fired from their jobs due to former marijuana usage despite Vice President Kamala Harris having admitted to using the drug in the past.
"Vice President Kamala Harris says that she is a 'past marijuana smoker,'" the reporter said, noting that she expressed approval of legalization, an opinion held by a majority of Americans.
"Yet last week, The Daily Beast reported that there were dozens of White House staffers who were either disciplined or terminated from their jobs for past marijuana use," he continued.
"Why did President Biden allow this to happen, especially considering the White House staff were led to believe that pot use would not be disqualifying, especially considering the Vice President is herself a former marijuana user?"
"What we try to do as an administration is work with the security service who actually make these determinations about suitability for serving in government," Psaki responded, stating that the "rules were actually far more stringent" during the presidency of Barack Obama, who was also known to have smoked cannabis in his younger days.
Psaki continued by noting that while many states have legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, it is still illegal at the federal level. "Five individuals who are no longer employed at the White House, a number of them, there were other security issues that were raised" on top of their past use of cannabis, she said.
"What we tried to do is enable additional members of the team who would not have been able to continue serving in past administrations to continue serving by updating our policy and coordination with the security service," Psaki said.
When asked why President Biden could not simply override protocols as President, Psaki responded by saying that "if marijuana was federally legal, that might be a different circumstance."
During the background checking process, White house staffers were asked if they had previously used cannabis, originally being told that it would not matter whether they responded yes or no. Many of those who answered yes, however, found themselves disciplined or fired despite previous assurances that they would not be punished for it.
"The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained," said one staffer.
According to another staffer, those who had admitted to using the drug were asked "to resign or be placed in a remote work program."
Fifteen states and Washington, DC have thus far legalized recreational cannabis use, while most other states have legalized it for medical use with varying limits on THC content. Only two states, Nebraska and Idaho, maintain a complete prohibition on the substance. Recent polling data shows that more than two-thirds of Americans support legalizing cannabis.