CA’s weed reforms: Other states must catch up, Biden urges

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“President Biden is getting in line behind California and encouraging more states to do what California and the other legalization states have started doing,” says Leaflt Senior Editor David Downs. Photo by Shutterstock.

Decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level might be closer than ever. 

This week, President Joe Biden announced that he is pardoning everybody convicted on federal marijuana possession charges, among other moves that could change how cannabis is categorized or dealt with on a state level. 

Thousands of Americans saddled with a criminal record for carrying the plant could be impacted, according to the announcement from the White House. The marijuana reforms fulfill a campaign promise and come just weeks before the November election. 

Leafly Senior Editor David Downs breaks down what the announcement could mean for Americans and the future of cannabis in the nation. 

What is Biden proposing around marijuana possession pardons and what kind of relief can it provide?

He's pardoning all prior federal offenses for simple marijuana possession, which [can impact] thousands of people. It should remove that stain from their record and allow them to get jobs, housing, or engage in other activities that they were discriminated against because of that record. 

 This is a solid step forward  — I'm calling it a big freakig deal. 

Where does California stand?

California is in the process of trying to expunge records for marijuana offenses. So California is ahead of the federal government in trying to remove [convictions] from people's records. Now President Biden is getting in line behind California and encouraging more states to do what California and the other legalization states have started doing.

What exactly is Biden asking governors to do?

He's telling the governors to pardon state marijuana possession and release people from local and state jails and prisons for simple possession of marijuana. This is significant because [locally] is where the rubber hits the road in terms of the drug war. People are sitting in jail, unable to bail out in the South and in the Midwest … where cannabis remains prohibited. 

In California, we let those people out when we voted in Proposition 64. We don't have people like that sitting in jail, but the 35 states that don't have adult-use sales … do.  

Whether they choose to follow up with [Biden’s call] is their prerogative. It's incumbent upon him to use his bully pulpit to be the voice of the people who … are telling them, “We don't want people sitting in cages for a plant.” 

Biden is getting on the right side of history and in terms of telling those governors to do what's right.

Could marijuana be reclassified as less dangerous under the Controlled Substances Act?

We put all drugs in different classifications in the 1970s called the scheduling system. Cannabis was put in Schedule I— the most dangerous drugs that had no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

The deal with the scheduling is that multiple different branches of government can do it or initiate. What we're seeing President Biden do is use his lane to go to his Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, as well as his attorney general, and initiate the process to review the scheduling of cannabis. Ostensibly, to move it out of Schedule I, where it sits alongside heroin and PCP. 

He says [the classification] makes no sense given that a drug like fentanyl, which is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, is not Schedule I.

It remains to be seen what the HHS [Health and Human Services] or the DOJ [Department of Justice] does, but voters need to know that Congress could have done this this year, and they did not do it. The DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration} has been asked to do it for decades, and they've never done it. So now the White House is weighing in and saying it's time to get moving. 

What does this mean for the Biden presidency and his legacy?

The White House is hearing that [roughly] 60% of Americans want cannabis legalized for adults, and 90% of Americans want medical marijuana legalized. 

To me, this is the White House doing what it can. There have been calls for him to go much further and do more executive orders or unilateral things, but President Biden is an experienced politician who knows that if you break it, you bought it. If you let out a bunch of people that are in for more heinous offenses, and they recommit, [political are opponents] going to stick it to you so this seems like a middle path for him. 

Could reforms impact President Biden’s and the Democrats’ chances for reelection?

We’re right before the midterms and Congress blew it on this issue. It’s a turnout game and it’s an energy game. This helps energize [the Democrats’] base, along with student debt relief [and] Roe v. Wade. 




Matt Guilhem


Tara Atrian