President Biden issued an executive order that introduces an equity-focused cannabis bill and called the criminalization of marijuana a “failed approach”.
The equity-focused cannabis bill does not introduce any cannabis reforms. Instead, it focuses on promoting equity within federal agencies and the White House.
The president took the opportunity to connect the equity-focused cannabis bill to his past efforts to pardon people convicted of non-violent cannabis-related crimes. He also called for a review of marijuana scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
“My Administration has taken action to strengthen public safety, advance criminal justice reform, correct our country’s failed approach to marijuana, protect civil rights, and stand up against rising extremism and hate-fueled violence that threaten the fabric of our democracy,” the President said in reference to the equity-focused cannabis bill.
The President’s Cannabis Record
The White House released a fact sheet on the executive order which expands on the President’s cannabis record which now includes the equity-focused cannabis bill. Here are some key points to consider.
“The President took bold action to address our failed approach to marijuana. The criminalization of marijuana possession has upended too many lives – for conduct that is now legal in many states.”
The fact sheet goes on to state that the mass pardon was put in place to eliminate “barriers to housing, employment, and educational opportunities for thousands of people with those prior convictions.
“The President also called on any state governor to follow his lead, as most marijuana prosecutions take place at the state and local level. And because this Administration is guided by science and evidence, he called on the Department of Health and Human Services at the Department of Justice to expeditiously review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
Biden’s Equity-Focused Cannabis Bill
Biden’s newly introduced equity-focused cannabis bill “Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” mandates federal agencies to produce an annual public Equity Action Plan which will analyze barriers underserved communities are facing in accessing programs and other benefits.
The administration has repeatedly emphasized cannabis clemency in relation to social equity and the matter was mentioned in a preview of the president’s latest State of the Union address. But it was not brought up in the speech itself.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Biden described his marijuana pardons as a symbol of his commitment to social justice.
Biden’s Attempts at Marijuana Rescheduling
In addition to Biden’s equity-focused cannabis bill, he has also been moving towards the rescheduling of marijuana. Marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug which designates it as a drug with little to no medical value and a high potential for addiction. It is in the same category as heroin.
A bipartisan group of 29 congressional lawmakers from the House and the Senate sent a letter to the president in December asking that he back marijuana legislation as the administration carries out the rescheduling review.
While the lawmakers didn’t request that Biden take administrative action toward federal legalization, their actions show a commitment to a more proactive approach to advancing reform.
U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xaviar Becerra was CC’d on the December letter and responded by tweeting a link to a Medical Moment article discussing the president’s de-scheduling directives.
“We’re going to look at what science tells us and what the evidence tells us. That will guide what we do- and we hope that will guide what federal government does,” said Becesara, a congressman and California attorney general who has long supported cannabis reform.
He also followed up on the president’s announcement of the equity-focused cannabis bill saying the department would “work as quickly as we can,” to carry out the rescheduling review. He mentioned that he already discussed the issues with the head of the Food and Drug Administration.
Neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent has recently decided to back marijuana and applauds the president’s efforts calling them “historic” and adding that cannabis “clearly” offers medical benefits.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) will also be conducting its own review regarding marijuana scheduling. It may result in marijuana falling into a lower schedule, or it could remove it from the schedule altogether.
Biden has the equity-focused cannabis bill and a possible rescheduling under his belt. He has also decriminalized non-violent weed-related crime on a federal level.
His pardon has affected over 6,000 people making it easier for them to gain jobs and housing. However, most non-violent marijuana crimes are tried at a local level. That’s why Biden is urging local governments to follow suit.
In November of 2022, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced she will pardon 47,144 people who were convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana. She is the first governor in the country to take such action.
The president also signed a marijuana research bill into law in December. In doing so, he made history by enacting the first piece of standalone federal cannabis reform legislation in the U.S.
A series of polls show that most Americans support Biden’s pardoning actions and feel marijuana should not be classified as a schedule 1 drug. His equity-focused cannabis bill is a step in the right direction. We can only wait to see where he will take it from here.