Congressman Tears Into Top Biden Official Over ‘Politically Damaging’ Lack Of Marijuana Reform Progress, Urging White House To ‘Follow Through’

Congressman Tears Into Top Biden Official Over ‘Politically Damaging’ Lack Of Marijuana Reform Progress, Urging White House To ‘Follow Through’

A Democratic congressman laid into a top Biden administration official on Wednesday over the “political malpractice” that is the president’s failure to end marijuana prohibition. The top federal health official promised to deliver that message to the White House, but also deferred responsibility for delays in an ongoing review into cannabis’s scheduling status to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founding co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, didn’t pull any punches at the House Ways & Means Committee hearing with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra.

The retiring congressman cited remarks from Vice President Kamala Harris last week— where she expressed frustration with how long it is taking to complete the marijuana scheduling review that President Joe Biden directed in 2022 and urged DEA to move “as quickly as possible”—and said “she’s right.”

“I think it borders on political malpractice and beyond. This is an area that just breaks my heart,” Blumenauer said, adding that he’s “frustrated” with the lack of progress implementing a cannabis research bill he championed that Biden signed into law in late 2022.

“We’re still waiting. Mr. Secretary. This is an area that is profoundly affecting millions of people in the United States,” he said. “We are denying opportunities for research that almost everybody agrees could be transformative, and we’re not in the forefront of this research.”

“There’s no excuse for our not being in the forefront for something that is now legal for 97 percent of the American public and, where people have a chance to vote, they vote to change the policies,” Blumenauer said. “I am hopeful that we can see some action following through on the legislation I passed—but, more importantly, on the things that the American people want.”

The congressman said it’s not just a disservice to the public, but it’s “politically damaging to the administration” that marijuana laws have not changed.

“I would hope that you could work with us to be able to break the logjam make the progress that the American people demand and things that we could do in a matter of months. We’ve been dancing around this for as long as I’ve been in Congress. I’ve been talking to you throughout your tenure. I think it’s time for the administration to actually follow through on some good intentions.”

Becerra said he “will take back much of your message” to the administration, while touting the fact that HHS followed the president’s scheduling review directive and subsequently recommend that DEA move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III.

“We delivered. We finished our work last year, and we submitted, as we were required by law, our findings based on the science,” he said. “We don’t get to make the final call. That’s left to the DEA to make. But when it comes to a cannabis, the president asked me to do something, we did it—but I will take back the message to the administration where you stand.”

Blumenauer, who has pressed DEA to go further than rescheduling and fully remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), then emphasized that “we are missing an opportunity for the American people” by not acting on bolder reform.

“Frankly, if I were the president and may be interested in young people voting for me and being identified with change and reform, I think somebody ought to light a fire somewhere,” he said, as the secretary chuckled in seeming recognition of that political reality.

“There’s no excuse to continue dragging our feet on these formalities. The evidence is clear. The public wants it. There are millions of people who demand the products, and we are damaging a whole new sector of the economy. I think there ought to be a sense of urgency to fix this so the vice president isn’t confused.”

While the vice president conveyed her frustration with the timing of the scheduling review during public remarks last week, she went on to say during a closed-door roundtable with presidential cannabis pardon recipients that “we need to legalize marijuana,” signaling a messaging shift as the administration leans into the popularity of cannabis reform ahead of the November election.

Becerra, for his part, has faced cannabis questions from lawmakers on both sides of the reform debate in recent days.

Earlier on Wednesday, for example, he again defended his department’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana against Republican criticism, while pointing out that the incremental move would not decriminalize cannabis despite the president’s campaign pledges to do so.

The secretary also deferred to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the science justifying its rescheduling recommendation to DEA during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week.

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Photo courtesy of the House of Representatives.

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