On Thursday 6 October 2022, US President Joe Biden made a surprise announcement where he revealed that he was granting the country a mass marijuana possession pardon and initiating an administrative review of cannabis scheduling. De-scheduling weed would remove it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) entirely, thus making it legal. It’s safe to say that the news set the internet ablaze in no time.
While many lawmakers, advocates and marijuana industry stakeholders are widely applauding the move, there has been some pushback from conservative members of Congress.
Biden’s decision fulfils a campaign promise—one that is likely to please members of his left-leaning political base ahead of the November midterm elections (in which the president’s fellow Democrats are defending control of the House of Representatives and Senate).
And boy did he manage to impress! Currently in the US, there are almost 40 states that have already legalised marijuana use in some form. That being said, it still remains completely illegal in some states as well as at the federal level.
Reclassification would be a first step towards wider legalisation, a move backed by a majority of Americans. It would also usher in sweeping changes for companies and law enforcement, impacting millions in the process.
As reported by Reuters, a senior administration official said more than 6,500 people with prior federal convictions could be affected by the pardons.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden said during his announcement. Urging state governors to follow suit, he added: “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”
But as shares of cannabis growers and sellers surged following Biden’s comments and many citizens rejoiced, party-pooper Republicans criticised the decision. “In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders—many of whom pled down from more serious charges,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton shared on Twitter.
“This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership,” he added.
Obviously, this is politics, which means Biden’s strategy goes deeper than simply indulging stoners—the global cannabis industry is forecast to hit $55 billion in sales by 2026, with the US market growing to $40 billion by then. My TikTok FYP might be rampant with edits of the president talking nonsense and looking lost on stage but it’s clear his team of advisors know what they’re doing.
Don’t get it twisted though. Biden remains what he has always been, openly hostile to cannabis consumers and determined to ensure that if cannabis itself won’t destroy your life, cannabis policy surely will.
Have we all forgotten about the March 2021 reports that Biden’s White House had fired or reassigned multiple young staffers whose sole ‘indiscretion’ was prior cannabis use? Many of these individuals lived in states where cannabis use and sale is perfectly legal, casting doubt at the time on the president’s campaign pledge that states should be free to implement their own cannabis laws without federal intervention.
Biden’s record on marijuana, drugs and crime is arguably the worst and most punitive of any Democratic politician of the past 50 years—excluding Senator Dianne Feinstein. He was an author and champion of the 1994 Crime Bill that is largely responsible for the current mass incarceration crisis in the US. He was also the lead sponsor of the RAVE Act, a draconian drug policy legislation passed by Congress that punished concert venue owners and promoters if drugs were used or sold at their events, even if they had zero knowledge or involvement in the drug-related activity.
All the way back in 1974, the current commander-in-chief himself stated “I don’t think marijuana should be legalised,” and repeated that sentiment as recently as 2010 when he said “I think legalisation is a mistake.”
Keeping this in mind, it’s highly possible that the Biden administration—including the president and Vice President Kamala Harris—only supports decriminalisation and the use of medical marijuana, rather than a full-scale reform.