President Biden Says He’s "Always" Supported Federal Medical Cannabis Legalization
The White House said Joe is down to legalize weed, but only for medicinal use.
Published on September 5, 2023

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President Joe Biden has “always” supported federal medical cannabis legalization, at least according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. 

At a recent press briefing, reporters asked Jean-Pierre to clarify the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) recent recommendation to downgrade the criminal status of cannabis. The recommendation, which was leaked to the press last week, officially asks the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, a category reserved for medically-useful drugs that still have some degree of abuse potential.

“So just so that everybody is clear: The president asked the secretary of HHS and also the attorney general to initiate the administrative process to review how marijuana is scheduled,” Jean-Pierre answered, Marijuana Moment reports. “The administration’s process is an independent process—I want to be very clear on that—that is led by HHS and DOJ. It is going to be very much guided by evidence.”

Jean-Pierre also made it clear that this proposed cannabis rescheduling is not a done deal. The HHS has passed its recommendation onto the DEA, but that agency can still choose to keep prohibiting weed just like it has been for its entire existence. “And so, I’m just not going to get ahead of what HHS is going to—the decision that they’ve made or get ahead of eventually what the DOJ is going to move forward with,” she told the press.

The White House spokesperson also took a minute to call out her boss' role in the rescheduling process. “So, look, the president has always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes,” she explained. “He’s been very clear about that, where appropriate, consistent with medical and scientific evidence. That is why it is important for this review—this independent review that is going to be, again, guided by evidence—to go through.”

Saying that the president has “always” supported cannabis reform is quite an exaggeration, though. Back in his days as a Senator, Biden spearheaded several bills to ramp up the racist War on Drugs. Biden did promise that he would fully decriminalize weed and free federal cannabis prisoners while on the campaign trail, but he didn’t attempt to make good on those promises until he ordered the HHS to reevaluate federal cannabis scheduling last year. He also issued a mass pardon to some federal drug prisoners, but the pardon actually didn't free anyone currently serving time for weed.

And like the pardon, the HHS proposal doesn't completely fulfill Biden's promise. Moving cannabis to Schedule III would remove many of the financial restrictions that currently make it difficult for the cannabis industry to turn a profit. If approved, the rescheduling would finally allow state-legal cannabis companies to open bank accounts, list on the US stock market, and take standard business deductions on their taxes. Some barriers making it hard for scientists to access quality weed for their research would also be removed.

Schedule III drugs cannot legally be used recreationally, though, so federal law enforcement could still prosecute anyone that is selling, using, or possessing cannabis for non-medical use. And even though medical use would technically be legal, actual medical marijuana products would remain federally prohibited until the FDA gets around to regulating them – a task which it shows no interest in doing. So, although it may be a big step in the right direction, Biden's actions still don't live up to his original promise to fully decriminalize cannabis and end the disproportionate enforcement of prohibition laws.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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