"I want to find out how and why this happened, and obviously I'm going to urge them to change course," Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California said.
Several leading Democrats are criticizing a White House policy that has disqualified or and sidelined staffers for past marijuana use, as first reported by The Daily Beast on Friday.
Sources told The Daily Beast that dozens of young staffers under were suspended, asked to resign, or told to work remotely after informing the White House that they had smoked marijuana recreationally — a marked reversal from President Joe Biden
administration's stance of allowing recreational cannabis smokers to apply for open roles.
The rebuke from members of the president's own party represents a major policy rift just days after the successful passage of the Democratic-backed $1.9 trillion COVID
-19 relief package.
Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California on Friday shared his displeasure over the policy with The Daily Beast, highlighting that medical cannabis was now the law of the land in most states and Washington DC and expressing that the country had "evolved beyond [former US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions' reefer madness hysteria."
"I want to find out how and why this happened, and obviously I'm going to urge them to change course," he said. "This administration promised a more enlightened approach, but somewhere along the line they reverted to the dogma."
Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, was even sharper in his criticism.
"What's happening now is a vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair, and out-of-touch cannabis policies," he told The Daily Beast. "There is confusion across the country because of out of date laws and the fact that the American public is not waiting for the federal government to get its act together. This is an opportunity for the Biden administration to help end the failed War on Drugs and make a more rational policy for everyone."
He added: "In the meantime, these young people should not be singled out and discriminated against for something that is legal in much of the country and supported by the vast majority of Americans."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the pushback to the report on Twitter, noting that of the hundreds of staffers hired, just five individuals were no longer serving in the administration.
"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," she wrote.
Psaki didn't specify how many applicants were potentially blocked from actually being hired, but told The Daily Beast that there were other considerations pertaining to individuals affected by the policy.
"In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use," she said in a statement. "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."
Other members didn't bite their tongue in responding to the report, including progressive Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California.
"This is an absurd policy that will block law abiding people — particularly people of color — from pursuing careers in public service," he told The Daily Beast. "It's all the more unjust that many of these staffers applied for their security clearances with the understanding that past marijuana use would not be held against them."
While cannabis is legal in Washington DC and 14 states, possession of the drug remains a federal crime, as it is still considered a Schedule I drug, the "most dangerous class" of substances.