For cannabis enthusiasts across the country, it is a long-awaited announcement. On October 6th, President Biden made a powerful statement, announcing mass pardons for federal marijuana possession and asking for a review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
For proponents of legalizing marijuana, the announcement perhaps doesn’t go far enough. However, an argument can be made this is the first large-scale federal plan that could pave the way toward decriminalizing marijuana in the United States. It also sparks important conversations about drug culture and where we are heading as a country.
The White House Statement
In a statement on marijuana reform, the President outlines his plan for dramatically changing federal marijuana laws. First, Biden vows to pardon those convicted of prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. In conjunction with the Attorney General, the Biden administration will review the cases of eligible individuals and issue certificates of pardon. In his statement, the President says, “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit.”
The second part of Biden’s major announcement called for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, along with heroin and LSD. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Schedule I drugs are substances with a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical use. According to the current drug schedule, marijuana is categorized as a drug more dangerous than cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.
What Does this Announcement Mean?
This announcement could be potentially life-changing for individuals with a federal criminal record for marijuana possession on their criminal record. Consider how a federal drug conviction may alter a person’s life. A marijuana conviction can make it difficult to secure housing, employment, and educational opportunities. It can also make it difficult to seek financial assistance. A drug conviction can profoundly impact a person’s quality of life and financial stability. A pardon offers some drug offenders a clean slate and the ability to kick-start their lives again without the shadow of a federal drug conviction looming over them.
Senior administration officials estimate that thousands of Americans may feel the impact of Biden’s decision to pardon federal marijuana possession crimes.
Rescheduling marijuana could have even more profound effects on American life. As a Schedule I controlled substance, a marijuana possession conviction carries significant criminal penalties such as high fines and time behind bars. Dropping marijuana down to a different schedule could reduce potential penalties for a marijuana possession conviction.
Yet, this milestone marijuana announcement also hints at bigger things to come. Many people believe that the actions of the White House may herald the beginning steps of potentially decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, signaling a shift in how the drug is managed amid the legal market’s emergence as a multi-billion-dollar industry.
The Good, The Bad, and The Pushback from State Governors
President Biden is also using his platform to call on all Governors to follow his lead regarding state marijuana offenses. While governors in states like Illinois and Colorado cheered the President’s move, other state leaders were not as enthusiastic.
In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas called the move waiving “the flag of surrender in the fight to save lives from drug abuse.” Previously, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot has publicly stated that he supports cannabis reform and does not want to see jails “stockpiled” with people convicted of simple possession. However, when asked for comment on the President’s decision, he signaled that he is “not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice” from the likes of President Biden.
Although several state leaders, predominantly Republicans, are pushing back on the President’s move, they may be in the minority. Research continues to show that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of going so far as to legalize marijuana for recreational and medicinal use. One poll conducted after the President released his statement indicates at least 62 percent of Americans polled support their governor pardoning people for marijuana possession.
The Changing Landscape
For many legalization advocates, the change has been a long time coming. Colorado and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana when they did so in 2012. Although not always a flawless or smooth process, the legalization of marijuana in these states was pivotal in changing how the country viewed the substance.
After seeing the successful implementation of legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington, other states jumped on the bandwagon. To date, NPR reports that 19 states have relegalized marijuana for recreational use, and 38 states have legalized the drug for medical use. Other states like Maryland, Missouri, and South Dakota have legalization measures on the ballot in November.
Individual state support for legalizing marijuana continues to bloom, but the recent statement from the Biden Administration is the first real taste of change to come at the federal level. Although Biden stopped short of fully endorsing the legalization of marijuana as a candidate for the presidency, his recent move shows a potential willingness to decriminalize the drug and pave the way for more open and direct conversations about marijuana’s place in American society broadly.
The President’s statement on marijuana may be chapter one in an ever-evolving social and political discussion on marijuana. The number of states that have moved to legalize the drug grows, and so too does the push to change federal rules on marijuana. As soon as those changes happen, you’ll hear about them from Cannabutter Digest.