VP Kamala Harris Tells DEA To Reschedule Marijuana ‘As Quickly As Possible’ At White House Meeting With Pardon Recipients

VP Kamala Harris Tells DEA To Reschedule Marijuana ‘As Quickly As Possible’ At White House Meeting With Pardon Recipients

Vice President Kamala Harris says the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must reschedule marijuana “as quickly as possible,” calling it “absurd” and “patently unfair” that cannabis is still classified in the same category as heroin.

At the beginning of a meeting at the White House with a group of people who received marijuana pardons under the president’s proclamations, Harris delivered a statement promoting both the administration’s clemency actions and its marijuana scheduling directive that led the U.S. Department of Human Service (HHS) to recommend that DEA reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

“I cannot emphasize enough that they need to get to it as quickly as possible,” the vice president said of the ongoing scheduling review. “And we need to have a resolution based on their findings and their assessment.”

“This issue is stark when one considers the fact that on the schedule currently, marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin. Marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl,” she said. “Which is absurd. Not to mention patently unfair.”

“I’m sure DEA is working as quickly as possible and will continue to do so, and we look forward to the product of their work,” Harris said.

The overall purpose of Friday’s meeting was to better understand the pardon recipients’ clemency experiences and “address specifically the injustices that we have seen in federal marijuana policy,” she said. This event comes as the administration becomes increasingly vocal about cannabis reform record ahead of the November elections.

“Nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed. And what we need to do is recognize that far too many people have been sent to jail for simple marijuana possession,” the vice president said, noting racial disparities in cannabis enforcement.

Following her opening remarks, Harris then participated in a closed-door roundtable discussion with three pardon recipients, along with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and rapper Fat Joe.

Staff with the VP’s office started reaching out to people who were pardoned under President Joe Biden’s 2022 and 2023 proclamations earlier this year, taking meetings as officials worked to better understand how they’ve navigated the process, which has also involved Justice Department issuing certificates for the pardons.

A White House official told Marijuana Moment ahead of Friday’s meeting that Harris would “highlight various actions that the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to advance long-overdue criminal justice reforms” at the event.

One of the individuals who took part in the event is a longtime cannabis activist, Chris Goldstein, who recently received a pardon certificate from DOJ after being formally forgiven for a 2014 cannabis possession case stemming from a protest advocating for federal marijuana policy reform.

Goldstein told Marijuana Moment that he met with U.S. Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer over the last month to go over the logistics of the event. Oyer’s office has been overseeing the clemency certification process.

Harris, for her part, has a complex cannabis legacy. During her time as a San Francisco prosecutor and later as California’s attorney general, she enforced criminalization and proactively opposed a 2010 cannabis legalization ballot initiative, at one point laughing dismissively in response to a report’s question about enacting reform. But her position has shifted dramatically over the years, and Harris went on to sponsor a bill to federally legalize marijuana as a U.S. senator in 2019.

Beshear, the governor of Kentucky who also participated in the White House roundtable, has been vocal about his support for cannabis reform, signing a medical marijuana legalization bill into law last year and taking executive action to legally protect patients who possess medical cannabis purchased at out-of-state licensed retailers by exercising his unilateral authority to grant pardons to anyone who meets certain criteria.

After Biden issued his first pardon proclamation in October 2022, Beshear said he was “actively considering” possible marijuana clemency actions the state could take and encouraged people to petition for relief in the interim. In 2021, he also talked about his desire to let Kentucky farmers grow and sell recreational cannabis across state lines.

While the purpose of the meeting was focused on the president’s clemency action—which he historically touted in his State of the Union address last week—the event seems to be the latest signal that the administration is hoping to appeal to voters ahead of the November election by promoting an issue with bipartisan popularity, especially among critical young voters.

The president’s mention of his marijuana pardons and administrative scheduling review directive during last week’s speech before a joint session of Congress was a key acknowledgement to that end. And it was well-received, evidenced in part by the massive social media response it elicited.

That said, the president did again misstate the scope of his administrative actions on marijuana, falsely asserting that he expunged thousands of records when, in fact, a pardon does not clear a person’s record.

Biden also told a supporter at a campaign stop in Wisconsin on Wednesday that he was “taking care” of marijuana reform, touting his pardons.

The popularity of administrative cannabis reform was also underscored in a recent poll that showed how Biden’s marijuana moves stand to benefit him in November. The survey found the president’s favorability spiked after people were made aware of the possibility that cannabis could be rescheduled under the Biden-initiated review.

Harris, for her part, also faced criticism last month after sharing a video where she claimed the administration had “changed federal marijuana policy.” While Biden has issued thousands of simple possession pardons and directed the ongoing review into federal cannabis scheduling, the law itself has not changed at this point, and campaign pledges to decriminalize marijuana have yet gone unfulfilled.

The vice president’s video also showed a map with incorrect information on which states have legalized cannabis to date.

Following its review, HHS advised DEA specifically to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

While that possibility evidently moves the needle for Biden among the general public, equity-focused advocates have stressed the point that it would not legalize marijuana, nor would it do anything to address the decades of harm under prohibition. It would allow state cannabis to take federal tax deductions that they’re currently barred from under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E, however.

Whether DEA accepts the HHS recommendation is yet to be seen. And while many expect an announcement will happen before the election, the timeline is uncertain. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra defended his agency’s rescheduling recommendation during a Senate committee hearing on Thursday and later told cannabis lobbyist Don Murphy that he should pay DEA a visit and “knock on their door” for answers about the timing of their decision.

Certain DEA officials are reportedly resisting the Biden administration’s rescheduling push, disputing the HHS findings on marijuana’s safety profile and medical potential, according to unnamed sources who spoke with The Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration was recently pressed to reschedule marijuana by two coalitions representing military veterans and law enforcement—including a group that counts DEA Administrator Anne Milgram among its members.

On the president’s pardon action, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment last month that the clemency should be “extended all the way out, and any unintended or intended consequences of the war on drugs should be dealt with to repair the damage.”

Former Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), however, told Marijuana Moment that he’s been “very pleased” with Biden’s clemency actions, arguing that the president has “taken some pretty, in my opinion, bold steps.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army recently clarified in a branch-wide notice that marijuana possession violations under the military drug code weren’t eligible under the president’s pardons. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) called it a “mistake” to exclude military from the relief.

Also, the governor of Massachusetts announced on Wednesday that she is moving to pardon “hundreds of thousands” of people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions on their records, in line with Biden’s push for state-level clemency.

Biden Tells Supporter He’s ‘Taking Care’ Of Marijuana Reform At Campaign Stop

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