Lawmakers, Governors And Advocates React To Biden Marijuana Pardon And Scheduling Review Announcement | Turn 420
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Lawmakers, Governors And Advocates React To Biden Marijuana Pardon And Scheduling Review Announcement

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President Joe Biden’s surprise announcement on Thursday that he is granting a mass marijuana possession pardons and initiating an administrative review of cannabis scheduling has set the internet ablaze.

Lawmakers, advocates and marijuana industry stakeholders are widely applauding the move, which comes just weeks before the November midterm elections. There has also been some pushback from conservative members of Congress.

Nearly two years since taking office after campaigning on cannabis decriminalization, rescheduling and clearing past marijuana records, Biden has finally answered repeated calls from bipartisan lawmakers and civil rights groups to use his executive authority to start righting the wrongs of prohibition.

Here’s how people are reacting to the news:

The Vice President

Members of Congress

“For far too long, the federal prohibition on cannabis and the War on Drugs has been a war on people, and particularly people of color,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “President Biden’s action to pardon people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law is a huge step forward to correct decades of over-criminalization.”

“Today is a huge step forward in the fight to restore lives destroyed by the criminalization of cannabis,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said. “I echo President Biden’s call for states to do the same and repair harms done by the failed War on Drugs by pardoning all non-violent cannabis convictions.”

“Today, President Biden took an important step in the fight to end the federal government’s failed and discriminatory prohibition of cannabis,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said. “No president has stepped forward to pardon low-level marijuana offenders at this scale before.”

“This is a critically important step forward for racial justice in the failed war on drugs that too often targeted people of color, especially Black and Latino men,” he said. “While this announcement is welcome and long overdue, it is just the first step of many that this Administration should take.”

Federal officials

State and local officials and parties

“This action from President Biden is exactly what this work should be about: improving people’s lives,” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a U.S. Senate candidate who recently met with Biden to discuss cannabis, said. “I commend the president for taking this significant, necessary, and just step to right a wrong and better the lives of millions of Americans.”

Political candidates

Organizations

Others

Here’s what you need to know about Biden’s Thursday announcement:

There are three parts to the president’s directive: 1) an administrative review of marijuana scheduling, 2) a proclamation granting pardons to all Americans who have committed prior federal cannabis possession offenses and 3) a call to action for governors to grant relief to people with state-level marijuana offenses on their records.

The scheduling review—which would be conducted by the Justice Department and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—could fundamentally reshape federal marijuana policy. Biden has faced calls from advocates to use his executive authority to unilaterally initiate that process.

It’s not clear how long the review might take, but Biden stressed that he wants the agencies to process it “expeditiously,” and the agencies have since said they intend to do just that.

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.

Biden has said he supports rescheduling to Schedule II, but advocates have pushed for complete descheduling, which would effectively end prohibition.

In a presidential proclamation that was issued on Thursday, Biden said he’s granting “a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act,” which will “restore to them full political, civil, and other rights.”

He also said in a statement that he’s “directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.”

The call for action by governors to provide relief isn’t binding, but that component of the announcement could ultimately impact far more Americans if the top state officials abide, as the vast majority of people with marijuana convictions have been prosecuted at the state, rather than federal, level.

The White House previously signaled that Biden would not be making any marijuana policy reform moves ahead of the election. But now he’s dropped what essentially amounts to a drug policy October surprise just before of the midterms.

The move also comes just days after a caucus representing the vast majority of House Republicans issued an agenda that opposes legalization and attempts to tie cannabis to suicide and violence.

Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers have continued to work legislatively to put an end to cannabis criminalization.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Booker filed a much-anticipated bill to federally legalize cannabis and promote social equity in July, and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Booker subsequently held a hearing where members discussed the proposal.

But given the steep task of meeting the 60-vote threshold, the general expectation is that the comprehensive legislation will not advance this session, and conversations have pivoted toward putting together a package of more modest cannabis proposals such as protecting banks that work with marijuana businesses and expunging records of those residing in legal states.

For the time being, Senate Democrats are touting one piece of incremental marijuana reform legislation that passed the chamber back in April. The bipartisan bill is meant to streamline the process for scientists who want to access cannabis for research purposes.

That specific legislation hasn’t been enacted into law. But there are hopes that a slightly revised version that was introduced in July could reach the president’s desk in due time. It already cleared the House just days after its filing, and the Senate was prepared to hold an expedited vote on it last week, but it was delayed following the objection of a GOP senator.

If it makes it through the chamber and gets to Biden, who remains opposed to full federal marijuana legalization, it would mark the first piece of standalone marijuana reform legislation to ever become law.

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.



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