With Marijuana Departures, the White House Wages Its Own Culture War

As President Biden presses forward along with his agenda, Republicans are turning extra consideration to immigration and “cancel culture” — a 21st-century retrofit of the so-called culture wars, which Republicans often use to retain help when their celebration is out of energy in Washington.

But inside the White House, the Biden administration has a tradition struggle of its personal on its palms. And it’s left lots of the president’s political allies scratching their heads.

On Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, confirmed that 5 employees members had lost their jobs as a result of they used marijuana in the previous — despite the fact that the administration had beforehand informed incoming staffers that prior use of hashish wouldn’t instantly disqualify them. Numerous different employees members stay employed on a work-from-home foundation whereas their historical past of marijuana use is evaluated.

It got here as a shock to many proponents of marijuana legalization, which is now extra fashionable than ever earlier than. Mr. Biden has lengthy been comparatively conservative relating to drug coverage, and he has by no means endorsed full legalization, however his plans for criminal-justice reform embody the decriminalization of marijuana and numerous different insurance policies to de-escalate the struggle on medicine, which is in its 50th 12 months.

Udi Ofer, the director of the justice division at the American Civil Liberties Union, mentioned that punishing White House employees members for previous pot use despatched a complicated sign. “Americans overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization, yet these types of punitive practices by employers — let alone the White House — perpetuate a failed war on marijuana,” he mentioned in an interview. “Marijuana possession continues to be the No. 1 arrest in America, year after year, and it’s these types of wrongheaded employer policies that perpetuate this.”

Last 12 months, Gallup discovered that Americans backed marijuana legalization by greater than two to 1, the highest degree of help on report. Sixty-eight % of the nation favored legalization, whereas simply 32 % have been towards it.

The degree of help was about even between white and nonwhite respondents. Even Republicans have been about evenly divided — with 48 % in favor and 52 % towards — whereas sentiment amongst Democrats was overwhelming: More than 4 in 5 supported it.

“Arguably, the Biden administration has missed an important opportunity here,” mentioned Eli Lehrer, the president of the conservative-leaning R Street Institute, which helps drug-law reform. “Like any administration, they do need to have consistent policies. And rewriting things willy-nilly is difficult. On the other hand, the tide very clearly is turning in the direction of legalization.”

“The culture war over this issue has definitely moved on,” he mentioned. “Even among Republicans, you’re getting very close to a majority supporting legalization outright.”

Recreational marijuana use is now authorized in 14 states, in addition to the nation’s capital. Some states and municipalities have even made it unlawful for employers to think about previous marijuana use in pre-employment screenings, as the Biden administration has performed.

A Nevada regulation that took impact final 12 months prevents firms from contemplating a pre-employment take a look at consequence for marijuana use; in New York City, a brand new regulation disallows employers from doing pre-employment marijuana assessments. Those legal guidelines don’t apply to positions the place security could also be a priority, or to jobs tied to federal applications that require drug testing.

The White House downplayed the layoffs, which have been first reported in The Daily Beast final week. “The bottom line is this,” Ms. Psaki wrote on Twitter on Friday. “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.”

Ms. Psaki emphasised that the administration had overhauled earlier hiring requirements to permit for extra leniency. “As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” she mentioned.

The Daily Beast additionally reported that the White House had compelled out, suspended or reassigned dozens of employees members on account of marijuana use, however two individuals near the state of affairs informed The Times final week that was not the case. In an interview, a senior White House official put the quantity nearer to a dozen.

Still, the White House’s continued therapy of hashish use as a firing offense places it out of step with each public opinion and developments at the state degree.

Although utilizing a small quantity of marijuana for leisure functions stays a federal misdemeanor — and rises to a felony after the first offense — legalization efforts have crept even into deeply pink states. Voters in South Dakota recently passed a measure permitting leisure use. In North Dakota, Republican lawmakers are moving ahead with laws that will do the similar.

When she was in the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris was a number one proponent of marijuana legalization and sponsored a invoice that will have taken hashish off the listing of Schedule I medicine, the place it sits alongside heroin and cocaine. Mr. Biden has been much less proactive about marijuana reform, however on the marketing campaign path he did endorse decriminalizing it. He has not particularly come out for or towards the struggle on medicine, which he helped wage as a senator — as a substitute preferring to border issues round criminal justice reform and the opioid crisis.

Mr. Ofer, of the A.C.L.U., mentioned that it was inside Mr. Biden’s government powers to take away marijuana from Schedule I.

“I understand that the new administration comes in inheriting past practices by past federal agencies,” he mentioned. “But it would be one thing if the White House came out with a position that said: ‘We don’t believe in these policies — we believe that people should not be punished for past marijuana use. It’s going to take us some time to go through the process of changing these policies, but here is where we stand.’”

“If that was their posture, they wouldn’t be facing criticism from the civil rights community; but that’s not their posture,” he mentioned. “So let’s start by getting clear on where President Biden stands on legalizing marijuana. And then let’s get clear on how he’s moving forward.”

New York Times Events

On Tuesday, be part of Times reporters, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and others for a subscriber-only occasion to mirror on one year of the pandemic, and the way we come again. You can R.S.V.P. here to attend.

On Politics can be out there as a publication. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox.

Is there something you assume we’re lacking? Anything you wish to see extra of? We’d love to listen to from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

Source link