The White House says “nothing has changed” with President Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana, declining to say if he supports Ohio’s vote to legalize this week or whether he backs further reform of federal cannabis laws.
At a briefing on Wednesday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre whether the administration supports the decision by Ohio voters on Tuesday to legalize adult-use cannabis and if Biden feels “marijuana restrictions should be loosened on the federal level.”
“The president put out his stance on marijuana about a year and a half ago. Nothing has changed there,” Jean-Pierre said.
“I will leave it to the people of Ohio to decide on how they’re going to move forward with their own Constitution, but I’m just not going to speak to it further,” she said. “We’ve been very clear.”
The press secretary slightly misstated the vote, as the cannabis measure was a statutory initiative that could be amended by the legislature, whereas Ohioans separately passed an abortion rights measure that is being enshrined in the state Constitution.
In any case, the president has voiced support for allowing states to set their own cannabis policies, though he’s consistently opposed federal adult-use legalization. That said, just over a year ago, Biden directed an administrative review into federal marijuana scheduling—a process that led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to recommend moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is now carrying out its part of the review before making a final scheduling determination.
While advocates have been encouraged by Biden’s review directive, as well as the mass marijuana pardon he issued last year, they’ve been pushing him to do more, including a call for the president to explicitly endorse an end to federal cannabis prohibition.
So far, he’s been unwilling to do so, despite his slumping poll numbers heading into the 2024 presidential election and the overwhelming public support for legalization, with a record 70 percent of Americans now backing legalization, according to a new Gallup survey.
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Biden has repeatedly promoted his cannabis pardons and scheduling directive as evidence that he’s working to fulfill his marijuana promises, but he’s often overstated the scope of the relief by suggesting it released people from prison and resulted in expungements of criminal records.
In September, the White House cited the mass pardon and scheduling review that Biden directed as part of a “Fight for Our Freedom” campaign meant to “mobilize young people” as next year’s election approaches.
In July, The White House drug czar said that the president’s marijuana reform actions last year were part of an effort to create cohesive cannabis policy within a patchwork of state legalization models.
The Justice Department has also started issuing marijuana pardon certificates to provide people with documentation that they’re received the formal forgiveness.
Meanwhile, Biden hasn’t personally commented on HHS’s cannabis rescheduling recommendation, but the White House press secretary did say in August that the president has been “very clear” that he’s “always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”
Of course, it’s not accurate to say that Biden has “always” backed cannabis reform. As a senator he championed several pieces of legislation that ramped up the war on drugs.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, said on Wednesday that Ohio’s vote to legalize marijuana at the ballot is one of the latest examples of how Americans are rejecting “MAGA extremism,” and he added that he’s committed to continuing to work on a bipartisan basis “to keep moving on bipartisan cannabis legislation as soon as we can.”
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