Hello! It’s the weekend, this is The Weekender. ☕
On Thursday, and with no leaks or anticipation, the Biden administration rolled out a bundle of marijuana reforms.
There are three planks: the first and potentially most broadly impactful is calling for a review of cannabis’ scheduling as a class 1 controlled substance. As President Joe Biden said in a video accompanying the rollout, that classification puts marijuana shoulder-to-shoulder with drugs like heroin, and in a more dangerous category than fentanyl.
“The process to review scheduling, that is really the big ticket item,” Doug Berman, executive director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, told TPM.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the officials who head the departments tasked with reviewing the drug’s classification, are both on the record calling for less punitiveness around marijuana usage.
“This is unlike prior environments in which petitions have been entertained,” John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institute who has written a book on the history and politics of marijuana, told TPM.
Biden is also issuing blanket pardons for “all prior federal offenses of simple possession” and directing governors to do the same with state charges. While the federal pardons only apply to a limited pool of people — about 6,500 under federal law and “thousands” more under D.C. code, per senior administration officials — experts called it a huge step towards the criminal justice reform advocates have long urged. Many also think it will prod blue state governors to follow his lead.
It’s a sign of how successfully marijuana reform has been stymied at the federal level that this relatively modest package of reforms had the experts I talked to downright giddy. If this is the first step towards decriminalizing marijuana on the federal level, it’ll give states more leeway to keep marching the way they’re going — which, in many cases, is freer access to the drug.
Voters in five states will decide this November whether to join 19 other states and Washington D.C. in legalizing adult-use (also known as “recreational”) cannabis. Thirty-seven states plus the district have already legalized medical marijuana.
Against that backdrop, Biden has taken the most significant steps to date to catch the federal government up to where the states are already headed.
“It should not be understated this is the most pro-reform move that a President has ever taken with regard to cannabis in U.S. history,” Hudak said.
More on other news below. Let’s dig in.