President Joe Biden on Thursday kicked off the most significant effort of any president to-date to loosen the federal grip on cannabis.
In a series of tweets, Biden announced that he is not only pardoning low-level federal cannabis possession convictions, but also calling on Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to explore rescheduling.
“It makes no sense,” Biden said in his announcement, referring to the current federal approach to cannabis.
Cannabis has been in Schedule I since the passage of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, a category reserved for substances with no medical value and a high misuse potential. Nonetheless, nearly every state has moved to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, and nearly half for consumption by any adult age 21 or older.
“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach,” Biden tweeted.
Biden’s pardon announcement is expected to affect thousands of Americans. The effort will lift some barriers to employment, housing, and access to federal loans, for example.
“My pardon will remove this burden,” Biden said in his announcement.
The American Civil Liberties Union has found that Black Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white Americans, despite comparable consumption rates.
“Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives – for conduct that is legal in many states,” Biden said. “That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs.”
Biden’s move on cannabis comes just weeks before the midterm election, one in which cannabis will be on a handful of ballots.
More Americans have state-level cannabis records than federal, and Biden urged state leaders to act.
“I’m calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses. Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden said.
On the campaign trail ahead of the 2020 election, Biden said that he supports decriminalization, but has stopped short of backing full legalization and regulation.