The Biden administration recently fulfilled a major campaign promise — canceling $10,000 to $20,000 in student loan debt for millions of borrowers. Now, as the midterm elections loom, cannabis advocates are hoping that the Biden administration will fulfill another major campaign pledge and finally take the much-needed step of descheduling cannabis.
According to Politico, as of August 2022, cannabis is fully legal in 19 states, while medical marijuana is legal in 19 others. However, marijuana possession remains illegal at the federal level and is considered a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
On the campaign trail leading up to the 2020 election, Biden postured himself as a moderate Democrat. While he clearly recognized that support for marijuana legalization was at an all-time high and expressed newfound openness to decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, he never committed to full legalization.
His running mate, Vice President Kamala Harris, emphasized the Biden-Harris campaign’s intention to decriminalize cannabis in a September 2020 speech, stating, “I think from our collective perspective, this is no time for half-steppin’. This is no time for incrementalism. We need to deal with the system and there needs to be a significant change in the design of the system.” Harris also committed to expunging marijuana-related convictions and ending incarceration for “drug use alone.”
Cannabis advocates at the time were excited about the prospect of decriminalization, despite the fact that the future administration wouldn’t yet take a stance on full legalization. Advocates of ending incarceration for marijuana possession were especially enthusiastic about the campaign’s statements. While the prospect of a legal cannabis market was certainly appealing to these advocates, many of them joined the fight for marijuana legalization primarily for criminal justice reasons.
Biden and Harris spent much of the first month of their administration working to restore a sense of normalcy to the White House that had all but vanished during the tumultuous Trump presidency. In his first 100 days, Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package, overturned a number of Trump-era policies, and worked to strengthen the Affordable Care Act.
But the administration took no action toward cannabis decriminalization or reform within that time period, leading some advocates to become impatient. Within a month of Biden’s inauguration, the 37 lawmakers who make up the Congressional Cannabis Caucus leadership began urging the president to pardon nonviolent federal marijuana offenses.
In a letter to Biden on February 18, 2021, they wrote, “During your campaign, you committed that you would ‘automatically expunge all past marijuana convictions for use and possession.’ Therefore, we urge you to grant executive clemency for all nonviolent cannabis offenders. We look forward to working with you and the incoming Attorney General on quickly making this a reality.”
It has been approximately 1½ years since the caucus pushed Biden to act, but to this day, no action has yet been taken to pardon nonviolent cannabis offenders or decriminalize marijuana. Justin Strekal, founder of the BOWL PAC and longtime cannabis legalization advocate, stated in an interview with LA Weekly that it was difficult to discern whether Biden might take action on his campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana prior to the midterm election. He noted Biden’s hesitancy to act but indicated that he would not be surprised if Biden does eventually make a move on the issue. Strekal said that Biden had total authority to issue a proclamation pardoning individuals convicted of federal cannabis crimes.
Numerous Democratic U.S. Senators have also pressed Biden on the issue of marijuana reform since he took office. In July 2022, six U.S. Senators — including Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Ron Wyden — sent a joint follow-up letter after numerous past attempts to spur the administration into action failed. The letter was also sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra.
In the letter, the senators again called on Biden to use executive authority to deschedule cannabis and pardon nonviolent offenders. They stressed the “widely accepted medical benefits” of cannabis as well as the massive public support for cannabis legalization, noting that around two-thirds of the public support legalization. The letter even went so far as to allege that the Biden administration was “harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes.”
Current U.S. Representatives and Senators aren’t the only Biden allies calling on Biden to fulfill his campaign promise. According to reporting by High Times, John Fetterman, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee from Pennsylvania, also plans to put pressure on Biden to take action on cannabis reform if he is elected in November. In a recent Twitter thread, Fetterman publicly called on the president to use his executive authority to decriminalize marijuana. Fetterman is an advocate for expunging cannabis convictions and ensuring that individuals with past cannabis convictions can access housing, financial aid for higher education, and employment opportunities.
In August, Biden was pressed on the issue by a reporter with the New York Post. At long last, he gave a small but vague update on the administration’s plans with regard to marijuana reform. When asked by the press whether he would keep his pledge to “release all the marijuana inmates in prison,” Biden stated that he did not believe anyone should be incarcerated for marijuana use and that the administration was currently “working on” a crime bill.
Biden’s recent comments on the issue certainly suggest that the administration is feeling the pressure and may, at last, be prepared to honor their campaign promise, even though exactly how and when that may occur remains to be seen.
Cannabutter Digest is the number one source for the most up-to-date cannabis news and details about the latest cannabis products to hit the market. Be sure to check out the recipes section of our website, where you can find some delicious cannabis-inspired dishes, desserts, and snacks.