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Kerry Cavanaugh is an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times.
In vast stretches of this country, it’s now legal for an adult to buy and use marijuana. But that perfectly legitimate activity can still get you fired from your job. A few White House staffers learned that the hard way recently.
The Daily Beast reported that dozens of White House staffers have been suspended, asked to resign or assigned to remote work due to past marijuana use. White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Friday that five workers were let go, though she told the Daily Beast that “there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated.”
Even though adult use of marijuana is legal in more than a dozen states, it remains illegal under federal law. Applicants for White House jobs are asked about past drug use as part of the vetting for the security clearance they’ll need to work there. Yet the Biden administration announced last month that past drug use wouldn’t automatically disqualify someone from getting a job in the White House. It was an acknowledgement that it’s getting harder to find employees, especially young ones, who haven’t used marijuana, because it’s legal in many places.
Now, 16 states and the District of Columbia — which collectively hold a third of the American population — have legalized the adult use of marijuana. Thirty-six states, with nearly 70 percent of the population, have legalized medical marijuana.
Federal prohibition is woefully out of step with the facts on the ground, and this White House staff issue is just another example of that illogical conflict.
A White House spokesperson told the Daily Beast: “This decision was made following intensive consultation with career security officials and will effectively protect our national security while modernizing policies to ensure that talented and otherwise well-qualified applicants with limited marijuana use will not be barred from serving the American people.”
We don’t know all the specifics on why individuals were fired or sidelined for admitted marijuana use. Still, if their use was in a state that has moved past prohibition, it’s hard to see how buying and consuming state-legal pot would amount to a national security threat. One big reason to legalize marijuana is to eliminate the black market that is dominated by drug cartels. The federal government’s reefer madness mentality perpetuates the illicit drug trade and slows the efforts to make marijuana a regulated and taxed industry.
Plus, it’s just unfair to punish people who thought they were engaging in a legal activity, if that’s what happened here. The federal government is way behind the curve on marijuana. Instead of hewing to the old drug warrior mentality, the Biden administration ought to be pushing policies and practices that reflect the cultural and political shift on marijuana. That starts with backing bills in Congress to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level to end the conflict with state legalization efforts.
The mixed message on marijuana is a quandary for President Joe Biden, but it’s one he can help fix.