In State of the Union Address, Biden Vows to Review Federal Reclassification of Pot

In State of the Union Address, Biden Vows to Review Federal Reclassification of Pot

President Joe Biden issued his State of the Union address on Thursday, March 7, and among many topics, he said he’ll direct his Cabinet to consider reclassifying cannabis at the federal level. It’s the first time that a president of the United States addressed cannabis reform as part of his State of the Union address.

“Keep building public trust, as I’ve been doing by taking executive action on police reform, and calling for it to be the law of the land, directing my Cabinet to review the federal classification of marijuana, and expunging thousands of convictions  for mere possession, because no one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana!” Biden said.

Biden also posted on X that “no one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana,” which prompted responses from people who pushed for real expungements—not the mostly meaningless wave of pardons to people with minor cannabis convictions issued by Biden in 2022.

Biden issued two executive orders in October 2022, pardoning some people with nonviolent federal cannabis records, and he asked the Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate if cannabis should be rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act.

The US Cannabis Council (USCC) launched in 2021 with a goal to build better access to an equitable and values-driven industry. The USCC has been working hard to advance federal cannabis legalization and promote restorative justice to the people harmed the most by the War on Drugs.

“The US Cannabis Council applauds President Biden for highlighting cannabis reform as an issue of national concern during his State of the Union address,” David Culver, SVP of Public Affairs at the USCC said in a statement obtained by High Times. “The President has issued historic pardons for nonviolent cannabis offenses and initiated a groundbreaking review of the status of cannabis under federal law. Tonight’s remarks before a national audience signal the President’s ongoing commitment to advancing cannabis reform. We are encouraged by what we heard this evening and optimistic that the Biden Administration will move cannabis down to Schedule III this year.” 

“President Biden made history tonight by addressing cannabis reform during the State of the Union,” said Adam Goers, co-chair, Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform. The President is committed to modernizing the federal government’s approach to cannabis, and he reinforced that commitment tonight in front of the American people. Moving cannabis down to Schedule III would represent an historic shift in our nation’s drug laws. We thank the President for his remarks and urge his Administration to push ahead with rescheduling.” 

Thousands of people received one of Biden’s pardons for federal cannabis possession convictions under two announcements issued in 2022 and in February. The Justice Department issued certificates to eligible people who applied for the pardons, but the certificates actually read “the pardon means that you’re forgiven, but you still have a criminal record.”

Former prisoner Weldon Angelos corrected Biden’s comment, adding that possession generally never leads to jail time alone. “Nobody goes to jail for use or simple possession,” Angelos posted on X. “But those imprisoned federally for marijuana felonies shouldn’t be forced to serve out the remainder of their decades long sentences either so please commute their sentences as you promised when you were running for president. 

Before Thursday’s State of the Union address, The Sentencing Project urged President Biden to remember his 2020 campaign promises to oppose mandatory minimum sentences and significantly reduce the prison population.

“America surpassed the grim milestone of 50 years of mass incarceration, with the prison population growing nearly 500% since 1973,” said Kara Gotsch, executive director for The Sentencing Project. “Today, almost 2 million individuals, and disproportionately Black Americans, are incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails. The U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens—for longer periods of time—than any other major democratic country in the world.” 

“President Biden promised four years ago to reduce federal incarceration levels by 50% and to oppose mandatory minimum sentences. We urge the president to keep those promises, and to scale up solutions that actually make communities safer, such as good schools, affordable childcare, broadly accessible mental health services, more effective and widely available substance use treatment programs, and more support for vulnerable children and youth. 

“Americans deserve safety, security, and community-based solutions that will build up our communities and actually stop the cycle of crime. We can get there if we put evidence-based solutions over politics, thriving communities over extreme sentences, and rehabilitation over punishment.”

In addition, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told High Times last that rescheduling cannabis under schedule III would do little by simply moving it to a less restrictive category. A recent survey found broad support across demographics and suggested Biden could see an 11% favorability boost if it occurs.

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