President Joe Biden said in a public statement on cannabis reform in 2022 that he believes no one should be incarcerated for using or possessing cannabis.
Additionally, he states, “… that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences.” Then he continued with an announcement that a federal pardon for all cases of simple possession of marijuana would be issued, and he requested a review of the plant’s scheduling as a Schedule I substance.
His recent pro-cannabis policy contrasts his earlier stances, where he was once on the side of harsher drug policies and mass incarceration. He said during his time as Vice President to ABC News, “I still believe it’s a gateway drug,” going on to speak against legalization.
According to an interview with The Shade Room in 2020, Biden stated he changed his stance and even advocated for decriminalization and expungement of criminal records related to cannabis possession or use.
From this statement, it seems like Biden is an ally of the cannabis industry, but will his actions have a long-term impact on incarceration or the legal status of cannabis?
Biden Issues Pardon on Federal Offenses for Cannabis Possession
The mass pardons issued by President Biden affected around 6,500 people with cannabis possession charges on record, though none were serving time for this charge alone. This federal pardon served more as an example for governors to act than it did to reduce incarceration for cannabis use and possession countrywide.
The majority of cannabis possession charges are under state jurisdiction and were largely unaffected by this “mass pardon.” While it is a step in the right direction, more than 40,000 people remain incarcerated for cannabis related offenses, according to the Last Prisoner Project’s estimation. These offenses are outside of the President’s jurisdiction for pardons, so his hope is that states will follow suit.
Will Cannabis Ever Be Rescheduled?
Biden’s push for rescheduling cannabis may take months to years to see any progress. This is largely because the process of rescheduling requires the cooperation of several agencies and research backing the medical benefits of cannabis.
The first step is for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to confirm that there are medical benefits to cannabis use, and for this to be possible, there needs to be enough research to support this conclusion.
Due to the existing scheduling of cannabis and its tight restrictions, it is very difficult to obtain legal cannabis for research purposes. In addition, funding is hard to come by as well, making for a combination of factors that will add to the time needed for rescheduling if successful. On the other hand, the administrator at the DEA, Anne Milgram, recently requested a timeline from the Department of Health and Human Services, so we might see a timeline soon for this step of the process.
After the HHS passes on its findings, it is sent to the FDA to be considered on the basis of several factors to measure abuse potential. The FDA had completed this review once before, in 2015, when they reaffirmed that it should be a Schedule I drug with no medical benefits. With almost 40 states with cannabis legalized in some form now and the changing landscape of the cannabis industry, there is much more research supporting cannabis rescheduling than in 2015.
The DEA will be next to share its review and recommendation for rescheduling, and then it is on to the attorney general to decide whether or not it will proceed to the rulemaking process.
Biden’s Opinion On Psychedelics
Unlike Biden’s opinion on cannabis regulation, his opinion on psychedelics is not something he has made his opinion known. However, Joe Biden’s youngest brother Frank Biden did claim in a radio interview that President Biden has been “very open-minded” on the topic of medical psychedelics in the past.
The psychedelic renaissance also continued under the Biden administration, with dozens of studies now looking into potential medical uses of psychedelics. Also, Oregon and Colorado have been trailblazing the legalization of psilocybin, Oregon with supervised use legalized in 2020, and Colorado with medical use legalized in 2022.
One year ago, in July 2022, a letter was made public from HHS that revealed the FDA was expecting approval of MDMA-assisted therapies within 2 years. It detailed plans from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to consider the development of a federal task force responsible for addressing barriers to commercialization. This will be a huge step for psychedelics in the US, and if the renaissance continues as it has been, then the country may see a shift in support for psychedelic’s medical uses.
Where Are We Now?
While Biden’s actions have been pro-cannabis, the industry would benefit greatly from changes in more impactful areas like Section 280E or a consistent regulatory framework for all states. These changes would require the cooperation of Congress and several federal agencies and would be more likely to be changed if cannabis is successfully rescheduled.
With Biden’s actions during his presidency, he has reflected on his 2020 sentiments and did attempt to make a change in the fight for cannabis rescheduling. This change may take years to bear any fruit, but with the 2024 presidential election just a year away, we may see more actions from President Biden on the issue of cannabis legalization and expungement.
About the Author
Michael has a background in cannabis education and grew up in a family with roots in the industry. When he was Director of Events at Cannaclub UCLA he had the chance to learn from the industry and educate the student body on various aspects of the industry and the plant’s medical benefits.
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