534 views | Dr. Binoy Kampmark | March 23, 2021
Promises are very much made to be broken, and the Biden administration is proving to be no exception. In a moral fit, the Biden White House has gone through the ranks of staffers with a keen eye on past marijuana use and wielded the axe and cudgel. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, a firm exponent of volte face, left media outlets with the impression that the administration had had a moment of sensible enlightenment. Consideration had been given to updating “the policies to ensure that past marijuana use wouldn’t automatically disqualify staff from serving in the White House.”
The consequence of this change, noted Psaki on Twitter, was that “more people will serve who would not have had 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 in the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy.” What she did not detail was the primary reason why these changes had been brought in the first place. With so many actual and potential staffers having taken of the weed, filling posts would have been a problem. Accordingly, the current White House purportedly allows for up to 15 past uses in a year among staffers while the Office of Personnel Management argues that previous marijuana use should not render a person unfit.
In a report by The Daily Beast, a rather different picture emerged, one streaked with callousness and inconsistency. Certain staffers were allegedly told that previous marijuana use would not be taken into consideration. That turned out to be rather loose with the hard verity: dozens were asked to resign, suffer suspension or told to work remotely. The administration had also been vague about how much usage was deemed acceptable or otherwise. Nor did it matter that the staffers in question came from any one of the 14 states where marijuana use is legal.
In a world with its insides turned out for an absurd viewing, Fox News decided to inhale the fumes and embrace the legalisation of marijuana, taking issue the actions of the Biden administration. “Dozens of young White House staffers have reportedly been fired suddenly or demoted suddenly over past weed smoking’,” stated disapproving Fox host Harris Faulkner. This, in a country with numerous states declaring marijuana use to be legal, “including the District of Columbia!” The standard embraced by the Biden Whitehouse would have even “sidelined Barack Obama”.
Libertarian and Fox Nation host Kat Timpf claimed that “you would be hard pressed to find even a single example of how past marijuana use would affect your ability to do these jobs” charging the administration with hypocrisy in the field of drug policy.
The National Review also noted the inconsistency between the record of Vice President Kamala Harris, who made no secret of previous use during her campaigning in 2019, and the hard targeting of White House staffers.
A number of Democrats were also left baffled. Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California reminded the White House that medical cannabis was legal in most states and Washington, DC, observing that the US had “evolved beyond [former US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions’ reefer madness hysteria.” The “administration had promised a more enlightened approach, but somewhere along the line they reverted to the dogma.”
Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, was unsettled by the “vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair, and out-of-touch cannabis policies.” President Joe Biden had a chance “to help end the failed War on Drugs and make a more rational policy for everyone.” Staffers should not have been “singled out and discriminated against for something that is legal in much of the country and supported by the vast majority of Americans.”
During his campaign, Biden underwent a transformation on drug policy. In August 2020, a platform decriminalising and rescheduling marijuana “through executive action on the federal level,” the wiping of criminal convictions for cannabis-use and the legalising of medical marijuana, was adopted. It seemed like sensible policy, given the high number of arrests made for the possession of cannabis in the United States each year. In 2018, police officers, according to the Pew Research Center, made 663,000 arrests for marijuana-related offences across the country, a staggering 40% of the 1.65 million drug arrests. Of the marijuana arrests, a mere 8% were for selling or manufacturing.
Biden’s previous record, however, is a tricky one to expunge. During the 1980s and 1990s he threw his lot in with the disastrously ill-conceived and named War on Drugs. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, had a good deal of Biden’s narrow Weltanschauung jammed into it. Central to it was an encouragement to police to increase the number of drug arrests. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Biden immodestly claimed credit for the 1994 crime law. The “Biden Crime Law”, he boasted, “added 100,000 cops to America’s streets.”
Now ensconced in the White House, it is clear that Biden has removed the plaster of tolerance and reform and returned to a phantom war he took much joy in participating in. Reefer madness has yet to leave the building.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org