In another example of shifting public perceptions, the Biden administration recently announced new guidelines stating prior cannabis use will no longer automatically disqualify potential political appointees to the Executive Office of the President.
White House officials reportedly engaged in “intensive consultation with security officials” before deciding to waive a requirement for “Top Secret” clearance on a case-by-case basis for possible appointees. The Biden transition team argued the move was necessary in order to attract promising candidates, particularly those in the Millenial and Gen Z age groups.
Cannabis remains a Schedule I illegal substance but is legal for medical and/or adult-use in 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam. The new guidance states the waiver will only be granted to those whose past cannabis consumption was “limited” and whose positions do not require security clearance. Admitting to extensive marijuana use could still be grounds for a waiver denial.
“President Biden is committed to bringing the best people into government – especially the young people whose commitment to public service can deepen in these positions and who can play leadership roles in our country for decades to come,” a White House official said in a statement to NBC. “The White House’s policy will maintain the absolute highest standards for service in government that the president expects from his administration, while acknowledging the reality that state and local marijuana laws have changed significantly across the country in recent years.”
Representatives for the Biden administration stressed cannabis use would still be prohibited for federal employees and random drug screening will continue to be conducted. Depending on the timing of the last admitted cannabis use, the appointee may be required to spend a period working remotely.
The topic of previous cannabis use was also noted by separate guidance issued to the executive branch by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
“It would be inconsistent with suitability regulations to implement a policy of finding an individual unfit or unsuitable for federal service solely on the basis of recency of marijuana use,” Kathleen McGettigan, Director of the OPM, wrote in a memo. “The nature and seriousness of the use and the nature of the specific position …. Are also likely to be important considerations.”
This small step is another brick in the path to full acceptance of cannabis and its consumers, and while it may seem minor, it signifies an erosion of stigma associated with the community not yet demonstrated by federal officials. It may be a while before cannabis use is acceptable for government officials, but if the President can inhale as a youth, their staff should be allowed to as well.