Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried penned a letter asking the White House House to stop allowing prior marijuana use to influence hiring decisions.
“There are recent concerns regarding Administration policies on the use of marijuana, concerns which I share as an advocate for modernized cannabis policy,” Fried wrote. “Reports have indicated that dozens of current and potential White House staffers have been adversely affected through the personnel process for prior use of marijuana, despite assurances that such use would not be disqualifying for employment.”
The letter, sent to Presidential Personnel Director Catherine Russell, comes days after a report in The Daily Beast alleging dozens of staffers had been asked to resign or were reassigned to remote work. White House press secretary Jen Psaki disputed the number of individuals impacted but confirmed five White House employees lost their jobs.
“We announced a few weeks ago that the White House had 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,” Psaki tweeted. “As a result, more people will serve who would not have 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 at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy.”
That’s despite frustration over decades of drug enforcement policies that disproportionately impacted minority communities. The NAACP notes that while Black Americans make up 5% of illicit drug users, they represent 29% of those arrested on drug charges and 33% of those incarcerated.
Fried endorsed President Joe Biden before Florida’s presidential primary last year and campaigned for him through the General Election. She suggested Biden’s policies and those of Vice President Kamala Harris reflect a different set of priorities than those reflected in recent personnel decisions.
“As the President and Vice President know, prejudicial cannabis policies disproportionately and unevenly impact communities of color and socially disadvantaged individuals,” she wrote. “The many young leaders in these segments of society who dream of serving our nation in the White House are yet another reason to commit to consistent, equitable personnel policies that meet our modern workforce where it is — without regard to prior or current use of marijuana.”
Regardless, holding potential hires to account for prior use doesn’t jive with modern sentiment or policy across the U.S., Fried notes. Polling shows seven in 10 Americans support legalizing marijuana. Most states at this point have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, including Florida, and many have approved it for responsible adult use. About 5 million Americans now have registered as legal medical marijuana users, including 500,000 Floridians.
“After decades of counterproductive prohibition, the pendulum has swung towards the need for modern, responsible, science-based policies towards cannabis,” Fried wrote. “This includes White House personnel policies that reflect — at a minimum — the right of medical marijuana patients to use the medicine legally prescribed to them under state law by medical professionals without facing employment discrimination or undue scrutiny in the workplace or hiring process.”