White House staffers asked to resign or work remotely after revealing past marijuana use
Arlette Saenz, Jake Tapper and Betsy Klein, CNN
(CNN) — Several White House staffers were asked to resign, were suspended or are working remotely after revealing past marijuana use during their background checks, sources familiar with the situation tell CNN.
Five people are no longer employed at the White House, while additional staffers are working remotely. In many of the cases involving staffers who are no longer employed, additional security factors were in play, including for some hard drug use, the official said.
While marijuana use is legal in many states, it is still illegal on the federal level, which can present a hurdle in the federal security clearance process.
The Daily Beast was the first to report on the Biden White House’s terminations and sidelining of staff who admitted to marijuana use.
The White House underscored on Friday that it has eased some restrictions in its security clearance policy to be more lenient about employing individuals with a history of drug use.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted on Friday that the White House “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.”
“As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” she added. “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.”
In a statement to CNN, Psaki said: “While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated.”
The White House is granting waivers on a limited basis on the requirement that employees of the Executive Office of the President qualify for Top Secret clearance in order to employed at the White House, a White House official said.
In order to be granted an exception, staffers must agree to stop using of marijuana, agree to a pledge to not use marijuana during government service, and undergo random drug tests. These employees will work remotely until their past usage meets the standards set by the Personnel Security Division.
The official said this was done after a detailed review and consultation with the Personnel Security Division. The official said that the administration has been working since the transition to address issues regarding occasional marijuana use in the security clearance process, which has disproportionately affected younger employees.
The exemption will be made available to those individuals who have engaged in limited marijuana use in the past year and those who are in positions not requiring security clearances, the official said. Other factors will also be considered in granting the waiver.
Staffers were informed of the decisions over the course of the past month, two sources familiar with the situation said.
Staffers needing a security clearance at the White House are required to fill out a detailed background check questionnaire, which includes questions about marijuana and other drugs. Applicants are asked to detail the type of drugs or controlled substances they have used and how frequent and recent the use has been.
Two sources said it was suggested to some during the presidential transition period that previous marijuana use might not disqualify individuals from serving in the White House. One source said the marijuana policy was not made clear to staffers before filling out their questionnaires.