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President Biden may finally be willing to make good on his promise to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, according to the White House “drug czar.”
Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), recently told Financial Times that federal officials are keeping a close watch on states that have legalized adult-use weed. But instead of trying to find ways to crack down on this newfound freedom, the feds are reportedly considering ways to implement new harm reduction policies, potentially including cannabis decriminalization.
Gupta said that the feds are actually trying to learn from states that have legalized medical or adult-use weed. “We’re monitoring the data and trying to see where things go,” he told Financial Times, according to Marijuana Moment. “But one thing is very clear, and the president has been clear about that—the policies that we’ve had around marijuana have not been working.”
While on the campaign trail, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made many promises to reevaluate America's failed War on Drugs policies. And although the candidates never promised full federal legalization, they did promise to decriminalize weed and enact other crucial harm reduction policies. In August 2020, Biden told ABC News that “we're going to make sure that we change the entire system in a way in which we deal with, with criminal justice from punishment to rehabilitation, no one should be going to jail because they have a drug addiction.”
So far, Biden has failed to make good on any of these promises. Since taking office, the current administration has not only failed to decriminalize weed, but actively interfered with lawmakers' efforts to reform federal cannabis laws. The White House encouraged Congress to block legal weed sales in Washington DC, to deny veterans the right to use medical pot, and has even fired staffers who smoked weed in the past. Federal hiring agencies will also deny jobs to anyone who even invests in a legal cannabis business.
And even though Congress is actively debating three different proposals to legalize cannabis, Biden has reiterated his resistance to full legalization. The president did suggest moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, but this weak plan would do nothing to stop the disproportionate enforcement of prohibition laws. But according to Gupta, a change of heart may be in the cards. In his recent interview, the drug czar suggested that the White House would still be open to some form of cannabis decriminalization.
Officials are also considering the possibility of lifting the federal ban on safe consumption sites where people can use illegal drugs under medical supervision. New York City opened several safe injection sites last December, in defiance of the federal ban, and these sites prevented nearly 60 overdoses in their first three weeks of operation. Rhode Island passed a law to create state-funded safe consumption sites this year, and lawmakers in Massachusetts and other states have considered similar proposals.
Despite their proven efficacy, the current federal ban allows the government to shut these sites down if they so choose. Gupta and other federal officials have suggested that this ban could soon be overturned, though. This February, the Department of Justice said it was “evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety,” according to the Associated Press.