Will Biden Legalize Marijuana on a Federal Level?
Advocates for Federal Cannabis Policy Reform Fear Not.
- Will Joe Biden legalize marijuana?
- What is his stance on medical and recreational marijuana?
- What about VP Kamala Harris?
- What’s the difference between rescheduling, descheduling, decriminalizing, and legalizing marijuana?
Let’s delve into past stances on this issue as well as the most recent comments from Biden, Harris, and the new administration’s spokespeople and explain what each of the options means for the cannabis industry and marijuana users.
The 2020 Presidential election
The 2020 Presidential election proved to have the greatest voter turnout in American history. Aside from the multiple reasons for such enthusiasm at the polls, cannabis legalization in a handful of both red and blue states was a winner.
The numbers are encouraging. There is a level of eagerness in both camps to reform federal cannabis laws. Although, for the most part, Democrats have been the driving force behind both state and federal cannabis policy reforms, the percentage of Republicans that are now in favor of legalizing marijuana is rising and is soon to pass the 50 percent mark.
Does this mean that Washington is going to get the job done during the Biden administration’s tenure? If the Senate remains firmly in the Republican’s grasp, there is little the Biden administration can do — short of some kind of executive order — to further legalization efforts. The GOP leadership in the Senate still seems to have zero interest in addressing the issue in a progressive manner.
What is Joe Biden’s stance on legalizing marijuana?
In the past, Biden staunchly maintained a hard-line approach to drug policies, even when a majority of polled fellow Democrats were in favor of cannabis legalization.
Biden was, in fact, the author of the notorious 1994 Crime bill, a scathing measure demanding highly punitive measures for individuals arrested in drug-related crimes.
So there is still some doubt by certain parties in regard to Biden’s stance on legal marijuana and his overall willingness to make it a top priority. Even President Trump used Biden’s past stance on marijuana as a demonizing point during the campaign, calling Biden the “architect” of the War on Drugs.
The good news is that In more recent days, Biden has rescinded his harsh views and maintains that his anti-drug stance was a “mistake.” Biden indicated while on the campaign trail, his support of medical cannabis legalization and for allowing states to set their own marijuana policies. He also has expressed support for federal decriminalization and expungements for individuals who unjustly suffered the life-altering consequences of a marijuana conviction.
Will Biden’s administration support states’ rights to regulate marijuana?
If Biden does not make any effort to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, there is still a chance that his administration will do no harm when it comes to state-sanctioned cannabis industries, and leave them to their own devices.
NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), in a recent email exchange with industry news source Marijuana Moment, pointed out that two attorney generals, both of whom vehemently oppose legalization, were appointed by President Trump. One of Trump’s AGs, Jeff Sessions, dismantled Obama-era Justice Department guidelines which discouraged federal prosecutors from interfering in state marijuana laws.
NORML has urged Biden to appoint an attorney general who will not only re-evaluate prohibition but also expunge low-level, non-violent cannabis convictions. The organization also requested that the newly appointed AG prohibit any interference in regard to state cannabis legislation.
Racial justice in regard to legalization and decriminalization issues was supposedly high on his list when Biden was on the campaign trail. However, a recently released agenda for Biden’s first term makes no mention of cannabis policy reform.
The plan designed by his transition team includes a ban on police chokeholds in addition to installing a national commission to track law enforcement abuses. However, there was no indication of cannabis policy changes in the new racial equity plan put forward by his team.
Ironically, an older page on Biden’s campaign web page titled “Plan for Black America,” included a promise to “decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions.”
Cannabis reform is often cited by both lawmakers and advocates as a pivotal racial justice measure. It’s a well-documented fact that Black citizens are far more vulnerable to being arrested and charged with cannabis crimes. This statistic holds true even though white people consume, purchase, and possess cannabis at a comparable rate.
When asked about the cannabis pledge omission from the new site, a spokesperson for the administration asserted that the page was mainly focused on economic equity issues and that the omission of the cannabis reform was in no way an indication of deprioritization.
Skepticism abounds amongst advocates when discussing Biden’s support for ending prohibition and the seeming lack of commitment to “uplifting Black and Brown communities.”
What is Vice-President Kamala Harris’s stance on legalizing marijuana?
At one point in her career as a California prosecutor, Kamala Harris was vehemently opposed to any cannabis policy reforms. However, the VP was outspoken in her advocacy of cannabis-legalization when she was running for president. Harris somewhat altered her stance after becoming Biden’s running mate and now voices support for a federal rescheduling and expungement initiative.
Recently, Harris stated that she would not be actively advocating for Biden to change his stance on legalization. She indicated a “deal” that she made with him to openly share her progressive views on several policies he currently opposes, including the legalization of marijuana.
What’s the difference between rescheduling, descheduling, decriminalizing, and legalizing marijuana?
At this time Biden is not in alignment with the supermajority of voters — 68 percent of whom now favor full federal legalization of marijuana — but he is enthusiastically pushing for rescheduling marijuana. But is that really a good thing? The bad news is, no, it isn’t.
Rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to a lower-tier — rather than descheduling it altogether — would mean that it would still be considered a federally controlled substance and would therefore be regulated by the FDA. Not only would this leave state recreational marijuana programs in jeopardy, but it would also unnecessarily complicate state medical marijuana laws. Descheduling marijuana would effectively legalize it on a federal level leaving regulation up to the states.
Furthermore, decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level is not the same as legalizing marijuana altogether. In a case of “the more things change the more they remain the same,” decriminalizing marijuana would just eliminate the possibility of jail time for possession but leave the cultivation, production, and sale of marijuana and cannabis-infused products on the naughty list.
“To truly achieve racial equity in marijuana policy, President Biden must commit to removing marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and repairing harms felt by individuals impacted by this country’s racist drug war,” Martiza Perez, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Anything less than that is unacceptable and falls short.”
In spite of Biden’s seeming lack of urgency to end prohibition, cannabis advocates remain hopeful and are optimistic about cannabis policy reforms under the Biden-Harris administration.