He's just not ready to embrace cannabis.
Despite a shift in public opinion toward legalizing marijuana over the past 30 years, the president's more conservative approach to weed policy is well-known on Capitol Hill. When the Daily Beast reported late Thursday that "dozens" of young White House staffers had been suspended, asked to resign or placed in a remote work program after admitting to prior marijuana use, pro-cannabis lawmakers were dismayed Friday but hardly shocked.
"It is another very vivid example of the clash between outmoded past policies, and where America is, and where America is going," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Capitol Hill's unofficial weed czar, said in an interview. "It's not, probably, surprising."
Blumenauer is already putting together a letter with other lawmakers "seeking clarification" from the Biden administration on the dismissals.
Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including Vice President Kamala Harris, have shifted their positions on cannabis legalization in recent years. But Biden — who, as a senator, shepherded the 1994 crime bill that disproportionately hit communities of color and set mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana possession — has never truly warmed to the idea. As recently as last year, Biden's staff rejected marijuana legalization as part of the Democratic Party policy platform. It was a step backwards from 2016, when the party made history by endorsing a "pathway" to legalization.
"They did not support descheduling and legalization," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who worked with the Biden campaign on the Democratic party platform last summer. She's requesting a meeting with the administration to discuss cannabis policy, including the latest uproar about personnel. In an interview, she added that the White House's recent actions don't surprise her. "What this shows is the impact of those laws."