The glacier that is federal government legislation continues to move incrementally. This past month, we saw President Biden issue mass pardons for marijuana possession, and now we are at last hearing from the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Rahul Gupta, who believes it’s high time to take a look at the science in support of marijuana’s medical value. For years, the notion being peddled by the federal government was that cannabis, a Schedule I drug, had no medical value and therefore wasn’t worthy of further research. It feels like waking up from a bizarre dream to hear federal officials finally agree that the opposite is true.
On The Heels Of A Big Announcement
President Biden’s pardons were announced in conjunction with an initiative to review marijuana’s federal scheduling status and, at long last, begin the process of true cannabis reform at the federal level. While the scope of the pardons is perhaps not as wide-reaching as we would like to see, the government’s decision to take a hard look at de-scheduling cannabis is the most promising step toward legalization we’ve seen so far.
According to Marijuana Moment, “it’s possible that the review could ultimately result in a recommendation to move marijuana from the strictest classification of Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to a lower schedule or no schedule at all.”
What Role Does Director Gupta Have To Play?
Before becoming the White House’s Drug Czar, Rahul Gupta’s track record included publicly acknowledging the medical benefits of cannabis and also helping to implement a medical marijuana program when he served as health commissioner of West Virginia. The fact that President Biden chose him as head of the ONDCP was a move that gave many hope for legalization.
In an interview on NPR last week, Gupta said that when it comes to reviewing cannabis’ scheduling, “it’s really important to follow the science and, at the same time, ensure that our science and evidence filters into criminal justice as well.” This is exactly what we need right now—more evidence-based policymaking by those in power who are committed to doing what’s best for their constituents.
Specifically about marijuana, he confirmed that “we know—and the president has as much said so—that clearly there are medical potential uses.” Having a president and drug czar who agree that marijuana can actually help people – and perhaps even heal the harm that results in needless incarcerations year after year – is about as close as this country has gotten to making a complete about-face in its senseless war on cannabis.
So now we may finally get on with making some real progress: Gupta says he wants to see “more research into understanding how cannabis can be used as medicine rather than just simply arresting people.” It’s time to hold the government accountable with the information that science has provided us with to make a real difference.
All The Support We Can Get
Of course, it will take more than a president and drug czar on the same side of marijuana reform to make a real difference. True legalization will come down to having the support of policymakers as well, the people who will actually be writing and enacting changing laws. Luckily, with all of the support we’ve seen for legalizing cannabis at the state level, both for medical and adult recreational use, it’s likely we can count on more support at the federal level as well.
Biden’s Health Secretary, Xavier Beccera, is on board to conduct the administrative review of cannabis’ scheduling status “as quickly as possible,” while the DOJ has been tasked with administering the president’s pardons in an equally expeditious manner.
Vice President Harris has, of course, shown her support for Biden’s actions by urging voters to elect “marijuana-friendly” candidates in the midterms, and Senator Cory Booker has expressed his endorsement of these changes while calling on still more reform to be enacted by the present congress to reverse the effects of the war on drugs.
While it’s easy to celebrate the government’s long-awaited move to make a real impact on the state of cannabis reform in this country, we can’t forget the decades of lies and mistreatment by our government of people – particularly Black people – who consume cannabis. The science backing the medical benefits of marijuana is incontrovertible and makes the Schedule I status of cannabis more and more ludicrous with each passing day. As long as we can continue to vote with our feet and demand that government officials take hard data into account, we may finally see the change we are hoping for.
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