Biden Promised to Decriminalize Marijuana. He Shouldn’t Wait for Congress.

According to a congressional report, the Biden administration does NOT have to wait for legislators to end the federal prohibition against marijuana and provide some relief for people whose lives were affected by felony convictions.

According to a new report by Joe Biden, President Joe Biden has the power to direct federal law enforcement not to prosecute marijuana charges and to grant a blanket pardon of thousands to those already convicted. reportFrom the Congressional Research Service.

Biden can’t wave a magic wand and legalize marijuana, but the report lays out pathways for the Biden administration to change the federal “scheduling” of cannabis as a prohibited substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the law that governs federal drug regulation and undergirds many state laws.

“Although the President may not unilaterally deschedule or reschedule a controlled substance, he does possess a large degree of indirect influence over scheduling decisions,” the report says. “The President could pursue the appointment of agency officials who favor descheduling, or use executive orders to direct DEA, HHS, and FDA to consider administrative descheduling of marijuana.”

“Descheduling” would remove cannabis products from the list of drugs regulated by the CSA, where marijuana is listed under Schedule 1 and therefore banned even for medical use. Marijuana could also be “rescheduled” into a lower category that regulates certain prescription drugs, but advocates say only “descheduling” would end federal prohibition and prevent unnecessary arrests.

“At this point, it is nonsensical and cruel for President Biden to stand by any position that is not in full of support of descheduling marijuana, particularly when the tide is now turning toward full drug decriminalization,” said Maritza Perez, the national affairs director at the Drug Policy Alliance, in an email to Truthout.

Biden is facing increasing pressure fulfill a campaign promise to “decriminalize” marijuana and expunge past convictions. Dozens of celebrities — including famous rappers such as Drake and Meek Mill — have joined congressional DemocratsIn asking Biden to grant a blanket Pardon to all persons convicted of non-violent federal cannabis violations, Democrats say a blanket pardon or “executive clemency” for marijuana convictions would trigger a sentencing rehearing for those still in prison, and some could be released depending on related charges.

On October 6, Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to kickstart an administrative process for descheduling marijuana, the first step toward “remedying the harmful racist impact” of enforcement, according to a letter to Garland’s office. According to the congressional report, Biden could also issue an Executive Order asking federal agencies to start the process without waiting for Congress.

Advocates and policymakers emphasize extreme racial disparitiesIn drug enforcement and sentencing that have filled prisons full of Black and Brown people. The American Civil Liberties Union discovered that Black people are being imprisoned despite states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. nearly four times more likelyDespite similar rates of marijuana use, it is more common for black people to be arrested in relation to marijuana possession than for whites. In states such as Montana and Kentucky, Black people are up to 9.6 times more likely to be arrested than whites, the result of racist “selective enforcement,” according to lawmakers and advocates.

“We know that descheduling marijuana would reduce drug arrest rates, particularly for Black people who continue to carry the weight of drug enforcement in this country,” Perez said in an email. “We also know that the ability to deschedule and provide conviction relief rests within the powers of the president.”

“Decriminalizing” a drug means reducing or eliminating criminal penalties for possession, while “legalizing” typically involves ending prohibition and setting up regulations for distribution and use. The United States would deschedule marijuana to end federal prohibition. However, regulation would still be up to the states unless Congress passed new laws.

Many Democrats also view marijuana reform as an opportunity. potent issue for rallying votersIn the upcoming elections, as their legalization efforts face an uphill struggle in Congress. Today, a clear majority of Americans say the “war on drugs” has failed. The majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana. an all-time high of 68 percentThis includes 50 percent of Republicans. Even conservative voters can be legalized in deep red states, which are still not legal. are getting impatient.

“Should President Biden wish to acknowledge the political, economic, and moral realities surrounding cannabis policy, and fulfill the promises he made on the campaign trail, this report lays out a clear roadmap for how to do so,” said Justin Strekal, political director of the cannabis reform group NORML, in a statement.

Biden cannot unilaterally end federal marijuana prohibition. He cannot legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. This is something that many states have done despite the federal ban. Biden can issue an executive directive to urge federal agencies to begin an administrative process to remove marijuana from Schedule 1. This would involve a rulemaking of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration.

Garland can also ask HHS to conduct a medical-scientific review of marijuana scheduling, and use those recommendations to make changes to the DEA. Booker and Warren mailed Garland asking for a scheduling review. The attorney general was given until October 20 to reply. The deadline has expired and it is unclear if Garland has responded. A request for comment was not received by the Department of Justice. TruthoutThis article was published at the time it was written.

The DEA funneled an average of $17 millionEvery year into local efforts to eradicate marijuana in recent years rejected petitions to reschedule marijuana in 2016, citing the government’s obligations under international drug control treaties. Warren and Booker remind us that the United Nations recently approved a reduction in cannabis restrictions. Treaty signatories Uruguay and Canada, along with 18 other states, have legalized recreational marijuana.

Although the rulemaking process to de-schedule marijuana could take some time and be challenged in court, it would send a strong message both to Congress and voters. Biden can also work together with Congress to pass legislation. decriminalize marijuanaThis includes racial Justice provisions that have been approved by a key House Committee. Rep. Cori Bush (D. Missouri) introduced historic legislation earlier this year to decriminalize small amounts of any drug.

Similar legislation on cannabis has been blocked year after year. Drug policy reform is not a priority for a White House that is focused on climate change, infrastructure, and recovering from the COVID pandemic. Advocates say that if Biden is serious about racial Justice and reducing incarceration it should be a priority.

“Biden must act now and support congressional efforts to pass comprehensive marijuana reform and broad drug decriminalization,” Perez said.