On October 6, President Joe Biden stated his initial steps towards reformation of the federal cannabis policy. This is in alignment with his campaign promise in the 2020 general election period. The full reformation will follow a three-step process. The first step involves the pardoning of all federal offenses involving simple possession of cannabis.
Another action included in step 1 is rewiring the way cannabis is scheduled in the Controlled Substances Act. The Health Secretary in the Biden Administration has already had talks with the FDA concerning the Marijuana scheduling review. The Secretary said his agency wants the move to be quick.
The move could dramatically reshape the cannabis industry
When issuing his statement on Thursday, Biden directed the US attorney general, together with the Secretary to the Department of Health and Human Services, to start the marijuana scheduling review process under federal law. The marijuana industry players believe this move will dramatically remodel the way the U.S. government handles marijuana and the fast-growing state-regulated sector that has commercialized cannabis.
Under the current federal law, marijuana is classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. According to President Joe Biden, this classification is meant for highly dangerous substances. Biden said that heroin and LSD are classified under the same schedule, which is above the fentanyl and methamphetamine classification, and these are the drugs causing an overdose epidemic in the country.
This decree came at the right time because many marijuana reform measures are currently stalled in the Senate. The pardoning of people with simple marijuana convictions is timely because the convicts are in the thousands. The President emphasized the convictions are disproportionate and have impacted more on racialized communities across the country. Biden further asked the state governors to follow his example and pardon marijuana-possession transgressors at the state level.
No one should be in jail for just possessing or using marijuana
According to President Joe Biden, nobody should be in jail for the offense of possessing or using marijuana. In a Twitter post on Thursday, the President said he was taking steps to end the country’s failed approach. He was quick to note that even as the federal state regulations change, his government still needed crucial marijuana limitations touching on sales to underage users, trafficking, and marketing.
He reiterated that too many lives had been upended after convicts were sent to jail for conduct that was legalized by many states. He noted that there had been clear racial disparities in handling the prosecutions, but his government was ready to start to right these wrongs. In summary, the president’s statement contains three critical directives.
- The pardoning of all offenses of the simple possession of marijuana
- Directing all state governors to pardon simple cannabis possession offenses at the state level.
- Directing Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Merrick Garland, the Attorney General, to start a cannabis administrative review process under federal law.
The U.S. Health Secretary already working with FDA
The U.S. Health Secretary said the process for Cannabis Scheduling Review has already begun. While making the announcement in Tampa Friday, Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department intends to move as quickly as they can to ensure they comply with the President’s directive. Marijuana has been under Schedule 1 under the CSA since 1970, when it was enacted.
When addressing reporters in Tampa, Becerra said the public is going to see the speed his agency will move. He added that by the end of the day, a solution would be obtained from science. Becerra had just concluded a “Meet and Greet” meeting that mostly Latino seniors had attended.
The seniors had raised their concerns about the prices of prescription drugs for patients under Medicare. Price reductions of the drugs are already part of the Inflation Reduction Act that was passed this summer. According to Becerra, a review of the marijuana federal scheduling will be done under the FDA. He added that he had already held talks with Robert Califf, the FDA Commissioner, regarding kick-starting the process. He confirmed that the president was clear on getting the process started as fast as possible. Becerra said although there is no new science on the issue, a lot of information needed to be collected from the states where marijuana has been legalized before starting the process.
Some states have legalized marijuana for medical use only, while others have legalized it for both medical use and recreational purposes. In response to President Joe Biden’s directive, the FDA has hired a former cannabis regulator as a senior policy advisor.
How does the Controlled Substances Act impact the cannabis sector?
In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. This is the category where heroin and LSD, which are more dangerous, are listed. Any drug listed under Schedule 1 is highly prohibited because it is recognized as not having any medical benefit and having a higher probability of abuse.
This is according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Due to this listing, financial institutions shy away from forming business relationships with cannabis stakeholders. A report by the U.S. Treasury Department shows out of all banks in the U.S., only 11% and 4% of credit unions are financing investors in the marijuana field.
A report by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws shows 19 states have already legalized recreational marijuana, although an extra 4 might join in soon. Another report by the National Conference of State Legislators says an additional 18 states have legalized the use of medical cannabis.
The Minority Cannabis Business Association applauds the President
The Minority Cannabis Business Association President Kaliko Castille applauded President Joe Biden’s announcement. He said he was thankful to the President for taking action to do the right thing. According to Kaliko, the announcement was a huge step in correcting the wrongs and hostilities against the Black and Brown communities.
He was thankful to every advocate across the U.S.A. and, in particular, the MCBA for their participation in focusing the cannabis legalization dialogue on the painful experiences faced by the Black and Brown communities who have been a major target of marijuana prohibition.