Looks like Brewer & Shipley were right after all. Three weeks ago, NBC News reported that the Biden White House had issued guidelines on staffing dismissing prior use of marijuana as a hurdle for employment. This was described as a case-by-case basis, but the administration clearly anticipated significant issues finding staffers — and candidates responded by telling the truth, hoping to avoid later issues with clearances.
Now, however, the Daily Beast reports that the Biden administration has changed its mind. Dozens of staffers who trusted the guidance now find themselves out of the White House, one way or another:
Dozens of young White House staffers have been suspended, asked to resign or placed in a remote work program due to past marijuana use, frustrating staffers who were pleased by initial indications from the Biden administration that recreational use of cannabis would not be immediately disqualifying for would-be personnel, according to three people familiar with the situation.
The policy has even affected staffers whose marijuana use was exclusive to one of the 14 states—and the District of Columbia—where cannabis is legal. Sources familiar with the matter also said a number of young staffers were either put on probation or canned because they revealed past marijuana use in an official document they filled out as part of the lengthy background check for a position in the Biden White House.
In some cases, staffers were informally told by transition higher-ups ahead of formally joining the administration that they would likely overlook some past marijuana use, only to be asked later to resign.
“There were one-on-one calls with individual affected staffers—rather, ex-staffers,” one former White House staffer affected by the policy told The Daily Beast. “I was asked to resign.”
“Nothing was ever explained” on the calls, they added, which were led by White House director of management and administration Anne Filipic. “The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained.”
It’s not just that the White House hinted that marijuana use wouldn’t be an issue. They explicitly told these applicants not to worry about it, and more importantly, to be honest about it in their background checks. The Biden team essentially suckered these men and women into making themselves unemployable in government, using these admissions to put them either out of work or a status that is essentially equal to being canned. Even those who are still employed but forced to work from home have lost the most critical part of their jobs — access.
This is really Amateur Hour by Biden and his team. At the time, I warned that this would be unworkable as long as marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug in federal law. Prior use of illegal drugs would prevent these applicants from getting clearances no matter their level of honesty. The White House solution was to waive the clearance requirement, but that’s simply not practical:
In the first place, it’s going to be impractical to have many uncleared personnel in these work spaces. Any classified material in those areas would force them to exit unless it could be sequestered somehow, which would be awkward to do on an ad hoc basis. Not everything a White House does requires classification — and much of it probably is already over-classified anyway — but obviously, a good deal of it should be restricted to reliable personnel only at some level. If an employee candidate can’t pass a security clearance on the basis of prior drug use, they’re a security risk, period, at least as long as marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug. That’s going to be a potential extortion point, one reason why we demand those clearances for sensitive positions in the first place.
Looks like the White House just figured out the impossible logistics, too. Why wouldn’t they have realized it from the beginning? Biden and his team aren’t outsiders, after all; they’re as Beltway Establishment as it gets. Their expertise was their selling point during the campaign. And yet no one figured out that hiring a bunch of people with histories of recreational illegal-drug use would be a problem?
Thanks to their ineptitude, dozens of people have had their lives disrupted needlessly, and many of those probably left good jobs that they may not get back. If this treatment of their loyal allies is an indication of the competency of this administration, we’re in for a rough four years. Even so … stick to Jameson’s.
Update: There’s also the question of hypocrisy:
I’m sold old I remember when Kamala Harris admitted to smoking weed on the campaign trail.
— BiasedGirl (@BiasedGirl) March 19, 2021
Oof. Harris got elected, so she gets a clearance no matter what. (The president is the ultimate authority on clearance assignments; TDB reminds us that Jared Kushner got a clearance on Donald Trump’s order after he was first denied.) If the Biden administration wants to resolve the hypocrisy for everyone else, they’ll need to get marijuana off of Schedule 1 and decriminalize it at the federal level.