The federal government is finally ready to listen to science when it comes to cannabis, a new interview with the White House “drug czar” suggests.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), spoke to NPR last week about President Biden's recent decision to address the country’s antiquated drug policies. Although the president's decision to mass pardon thousands of low-level weed offenders grabbed the most headlines, his plan to reconsider the Schedule I status of marijuana has even deeper implications. Biden directed federal officials to begin a review process that could ultimately relax federal pot prohibition laws – or even decriminalize cannabis entirely.
For nearly a century now, federal cannabis laws have been guided by “reefer madness” myths and racism. But in the new interview, Gupta said that the feds are finally willing to take science into account while considering rescheduling. “We know — and the president has as much said so — that clearly there are medical potential uses,” the drug czar said during the NPR interview.
“The simple fact is that you follow the research that you have, and you make decisions based on the science that is available to you,” he added. “And we do know that, today, we have more research available than we had just simply 10 years ago. So it is time, as the president has asked for, to take a look at the scheduling of marijuana as a Schedule I drug.”
The drug czar also acknowledged that federal rescheduling or decriminalization would have a powerful impact on social justice. Gupta told NPR that the current administration knows that Black people are far more likely to be arrested for weed than white people, despite similar rates of use. He added that it was “really important for us to look at how many people have been serving sentences and have been impacted for non-violent drug crimes... So it’s really important to follow the science and, at the same time, ensure that our science and evidence filters into criminal justice as well.”
“Still, we need to make sure that we’re working to have a process through it, and that’s exactly why last week President Biden made these announcements,” Gupta said. “It’s really important to follow these steps as the president has outlined because marijuana is currently scheduled as a Schedule I drug and it’s treated the same… as heroin and LSD and it’s important for us to take a look at that.”
Dr. Gupta has previously suggested that the feds were considering plans to reschedule cannabis on several occasions. This June, Gupta told reporters that federal officials were keeping a close watch on states that had legalized adult-use or medical cannabis and suggested that decriminalization plans were in the works. But given the current administration's poor track record when it comes to weed, it was hard to believe that these plans would ever materialize.
Although Biden has continually promised to free federal weed prisoners and consider cannabis decriminalization, he also repeatedly stated his opposition to full federal legalization. And since he took office, his administration has tried to block legal weed sales in Washington DC, fired staffers who smoked weed in the past, and even advocated against allowing veterans to use medical marijuana. But after his surprise announcement this month, it seems like the president is finally on board, and federal cannabis reform may no longer be the pipe dream that it seemed to be last month.
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