White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said that “only five” people were fired from President Biden’s staff for past marijuana use.
The terminations first reported Thursday night received criticism from fellow Democrats who view the policy as overly harsh and outdated.
Psaki insisted on Twitter that the Biden administration actually was being more lenient toward cannabis use.
“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,” Psaki tweeted.
“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.”
A terminated staffer said, however, that it’s unclear what the current policy is toward past or current pot use or toward people who use the drug in compliance with state laws.
“The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained,” the fired aide told the Daily Beast.
The now-former staffer added, “It’s exclusively targeting younger staff and staff who came from states where it was legal.”
Marijuana is federally illegal but most states allow medical marijuana and 15 states, two US territories and the District of Columbia have passed ballot measures or enacted laws that allow recreational marijuana.
Recent polls by Gallup and Pew found that more than two-thirds of the US population supports marijuana legalization — including about half of Republican voters.
On Thursday, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York announced plans to introduce a bill that federally legalizes marijuana.
Vice President Kamala Harris reportedly oversaw 1,900 marijuana prosecutions while she was San Francisco district attorney from 2004-2011. But Harris more recently said she supports making pot legal, in a significant break with Biden.
As a senator, Biden authored some of the nation’s harshest federal drug laws.
On his final day as president, Donald Trump released two prisoners serving life without parole for marijuana under Biden’s 1994 crime law.