So far, 14 states and the District of Columbia have legalised marijuana for adult recreational use, and 36 states permit medical use of the drug. It is still illegal at a federal level however, which acts as a barrier to obtaining a security clearance if past use is admitted.
While hiring staffers earlier this year, the Biden administration asked employees to disclose past cannabis use as part of a lengthy background check, but told some of them that they would “overlook” their answer.
This came after the White House updated its guidelines last month to allow for “limited” use of cannabis in the past, explaining that it did not want it to be a barrier to good candidates working for the administration.
However, in a tweet on Friday morning, Ms Psaki explained that five members of new White House staff had been fired from the administration because of their past cannabis use, but stressed that a majority of employees were unaffected.
“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.
“As a result, more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” Ms Psaki wrote in a tweet on Friday.
However, the press secretary added: “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.”
The announcement came less than 24 hours after The Daily Beast reported that several members of White House staff had been asked to resign after admitting to past cannabis use.
The staffers were affected regardless of whether they had been located in states where cannabis was legal at the time of the use.
Staffers claimed to The Daily Beast on Thursday that White House director of Management and Administration Anne Filipic called several of the employees this week to inform them that because they admitted to past cannabis use, they would have to resign or be placed in a remote work programme.
One former staffer who was asked to resign expressed surprise at the move, telling The Daily Beast : “The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained”.
While another employee claimed: “It’s exclusively targeting younger staff and staff who came from states where it was legal.”
Speaking to NBC News when the policy was announced in February, a White House official said that it had been implemented to “effectively protect our national security while modernising policies to ensure that talented and otherwise well-qualified applicants with limited marijuana use will not be barred from serving the American people”.
The official added: “President Biden is committed to bringing the best people into government – especially the young people whose commitment to public service can deepen in these positions and who can play leadership roles in our country for decades to come.”
As part the new guidelines introduced by the Biden administration, White House staffers have been asked to cease all cannabis use and are subject to random drug tests.
The Independent has contacted the White House for additional comment.