President Joe Biden took an historic step on Thursday by pardoning thousands of federal cannabis possession convictions and calling for a review of how the federal government classifies cannabis.
As Cannabis Wire reported earlier on Thursday, cannabis has been in Schedule I since the passage of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970; this category, the strictest, is reserved for substances with no medical value and a high misuse potential.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said in a video released by the White House. He also pointed out that fentanyl is on a lower schedule.
Immediately, the reactions began to pour in – from federal agencies and members of Congress, from state lawmakers and governors, and from cannabis advocates and industry members. Even cannabis stocks, which have been flailing lately, saw a surge.
Cannabis Wire has put together a (by no means exhaustive) roundup that we will continue to update in the coming days.
Vice President Kamala Harris: “Today, @POTUS pardoned all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession. He has asked @SecBecerra and the Attorney General to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. This is a step forward in correcting the historical injustices of failed drug policies.”
Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra: “Looking forward to working with Attorney General Garland to answer @POTUS’ call to action to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
U.S. Department of Justice Spokesperson Anthony Coley: “The Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense. In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon. Also, in accordance with the President’s directive, Justice Department officials will work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services as they launch a scientific review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Rahul Gupta: “.@POTUS is right: For too long, our approach to marijuana has upended too many lives, disproportionately devastating communities of color. Today’s actions are important steps to advance equity in our Nation’s drug policies.”
Members of Congress:
In addition to members of Congress that authored major pieces of cannabis legislation, Congress members across the political spectrum reacted. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren applauded the move, with Sanders saying that “much more needs to be done,” while Sen. Tom Cotton called Biden soft on crime.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “House Democrats applaud these bold actions by President Biden, which build on the important progress we forged in passing our Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. This legislation, which decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level and empowers all to participate in the rapidly growing cannabis industry, must become law. Our proud Democratic Majority will never relent in fighting for these reforms, and more, as we work to advance justice for all.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (sponsor of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, the most comprehensive cannabis legislation introduced in Congress): “I hope this executive action will be a catalyst for more change as I continue to make progress with members of Congress from across the political and ideological spectrum to pass legislation that brings federal marijuana laws in line with views of the overwhelming majority of Americans.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, which would open up banking services to the cannabis industry): “I appreciate the President ordering a review of how marijuana is scheduled, but even if marijauna is moved to a lower schedule on the Controlled Substances Act, we will continue to face banking conflicts between federal and state law. The House has already passed a variety of bipartisan cannabis reform bills – including the SAFE Banking Act seven times. Now it’s time for the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass bipartisan cannabis reform legislation.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (sponsor of the States Reform Act, the most comprehensive legalization plan to emerge from the Republican party): “Spoke to @WhiteHouse today about their announcement to pardon simple possession and ‘reschedule.’ This is one of multiple conversations we’ve had w them. Gonna give credit where credit is due. Great first step, let’s keep going.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus: “While this order is welcome and long overdue, it is just the first step of many that this Administration should take. We have pending legislation that deals with medical marijuana research and the ability for cannabis businesses to access banking services—both of which have gained support in the House and Senate. The President should embrace and celebrate. It is critical that we put the full force of the federal government behind them.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, also co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus: “Thank you again to President Biden and to all of the activists whose continuous work has made this possible. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Cannabis Caucus and in Congress to continue delivering real, meaningful action on cannabis reform.”
Governors, state lawmakers, mayors, and attorneys general from across the country also released statements about Biden’s announcements on cannabis.
In Illinois, where cannabis is legal for adults, Gov. J.B. Pritzker thanked Biden, while in Arkansas, where voters will decide on adult use at the ballot this fall, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that Biden had “waived the flag of surrender in the fight to save lives from drug abuse.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s announcement came just weeks before the consequential midterm election, ahead of which Democrats have been working to prevent the loss of gubernatorial posts and seats in Congress. Candidates came out in support of Biden’s move, including Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for the Senate, and Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor of Georgia.
Cannabis regulators also cheered Biden’s move, and touted their states’ accomplishments with regard to reform.
CANN-RA, the Cannabis Regulators Association, which represents cannabis regulators from across the country, “applauds President Biden’s move to follow in the footsteps of a number of states by expunging criminal records related to cannabis possession. As federal agencies explore and reassess the current federal Schedule 1 designation of cannabis at the request of the President, cannabis regulators remain an important stakeholder group to have at the table to discuss implementation details and impacts on states.”
New York’s Office of Cannabis Management, for example, said that Biden’s decision to pardon is “an essential step toward decriminalizing and destigmatizing cannabis to ensure the industry serves those most impacted.”
And, of course, cannabis legalization advocates and opponents across the spectrum reacted in full force.
The statements came out by the dozens. There were the groups focused on equity and justice, like Parabola Center, Drug Policy Alliance, and the ACLU; those focused on industry interests like CPEAR and USCC; the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, which has cannonballed into the cannabis policy discussion this year; and the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
Cannabis Wire will continue to update this story with comments and statements.