In February, the Biden administration signaled that past marijuana use would not necessarily disqualify a person from employment in the federal government. It was a change that was seen as a way to open the door for younger talent, but one that only took a few weeks to be tested.
On Friday, responding to a news report in the Daily Beast that said “dozens” of young staff members had been pushed to resign or had been reassigned to remote work based on their past marijuana use, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that a small number of people were no longer working at the White House after their past use of the drug had been assessed.
“The bottom line is this,” Ms. Psaki wrote. “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.”
The officials were directed to resign, in part because of past marijuana use, according to a person familiar with the matter but who was not authorized to speak publicly. Several in that group also had other disqualifying factors that surfaced when determining their eligibility to receive clearances, the person said.
Still, the episode highlighted how murky the new guidelines are, particularly for a White House that has pledged to embrace progressive positions, even as President Biden has always maintained a moderate stance toward legalizing the drug.
The matter also pits federal policy against a move to legalize or decriminalize marijuana use or possession in individual states — a complicating factor for officials who have arrived in Washington from places where use of the drug is permitted. Marijuana use and possession is still a federal crime, despite fast-growing public support to legalize the drug.
Last month, the White House made public a new set of guidelines for people in the Executive Office of the President whose past marijuana use was determined not to disqualify them from employment, or from jobs that require top-secret security clearances. Officials who have disclosed past marijuana use but are still permitted to work for the administration have been asked to sign a pledge not to use marijuana while working for the government, and they also must submit to random drug testing, according to officials.
There are also a number of White House officials who have been directed to work remotely until they have been cleared to meet a new standard of past marijuana use set by White House personnel security officials. Officials did not say on Friday what the timeline for that clearance was or how many people had been directed to work remotely, but two people familiar with the new policies said it was not dozens.
The new guidelines may affect how people in agencies across the federal government receive security clearances. In February, a memo on past marijuana use for all federal civilian employees was issued by Kathleen M. McGettigan, the acting director of the United States Office of Personnel Management.
“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,” she wrote. “Past marijuana use, including recently discontinued marijuana use, should be viewed differently from ongoing marijuana use.”