While Still Misguided, New White House Cannabis Policy Demonstrates Progress

It made news when the Biden White House issued a new federal policy stating that cannabis use wouldn’t automatically disqualify staffers from employment opportunities within the administration. The federal policy change was announced by a memo from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that the have changed as, “Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have removed criminal prohibitions on medical and recreational marijuana use by adults age 21 or older, and an additional 33 states permit medical use of marijuana or of the cannabis-derived compound cannabidiol (CBD).” However, some media outlets ran with headlines like “OPM Memo States Marijuana is Not a Disqualifier for Federal Employment” that were too broad, making many think that cannabis would no longer be an issue for ANYONE working for the new administration.

The actual OPM memo just stated that cannabis use would not be an automatic disqualifier for government positions, detailing a set of criteria to consider such decisions on a case-by-case basis. From the OPM memo “Assessing the Suitability/Fitness of Applicants or Appointees on the Basis of Marijuana Use; Maintaining a Drug-Free Workplace”:

In each instance, the agency must consider the following additional considerations of the individual’s conduct to the extent deemed pertinent to the individual case:
• The nature of the position for which the person is applying or in which the person is employed;
• The nature and seriousness of the conduct;
• The circumstances surrounding the conduct;
• The recency of the conduct;
• The age of the person at the time of the conduct;
• Contributing societal conditions;
• The absence or presence of rehabilitation or efforts toward rehabilitation.

After The Daily Beast reported that some White House staffers had been fired or otherwise sanctioned for their cannabis use, the Biden administration was forced to respond. Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated on on Twitter that the White House had updated Uncle Sam’s hiring policy, “And 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.

Well, the cannabis community has been making so much progress on a number of political fronts and will continue racking up wins, but there are gonna be setbacks along the way. While Joe Biden firing 5 staffers and punishing others for their cannabis is certainly out-of-touch and not want the voters want, the entire ordeal actually demonstrates the progress that we’ve made. The fact that cannabis use wasn’t used to automatically fire people was a small step in the right direction and the White House being forced to respond to political pressure shows how far we have come on the issue. In the past, people wouldn’t have been hired in the first place or would be hired and the powers that be wouldn’t bat an eye. Now, ending cannabis prohibition is such a popular policy, most of the discussion in the media centers around how wrong it is to punish people for a substance less addictive and dangerous than alcohol. Two steps forward, one step back, but we are moving closer and closer to true freedom and equality.

Featured photo credit: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance

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