Marijuana legalization advocates cheered President Biden’s decision on Thursday to pardon prior federal simple weed convictions and set the stage for decriminalizing the drug at the federal level.
The announcement is a breakthrough victory for activists who have persistently pushed Biden to drop his personal opposition to weed legalization and uphold his campaign pledge to move toward decriminalization.
Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement that she is “thrilled” with Thursday’s news, adding that Biden should fully deschedule marijuana rather than reschedule it to a lower drug classification.
“Keeping marijuana on the federal drug schedule will mean people will continue to face criminal charges for marijuana,” she said. “It also means that research will continue to be inhibited and state-level markets will be at odds with federal law.”
Biden said Thursday that he will order his administration to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 drug, a higher classification than highly addictive drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday that administration officials should “thoughtfully consider fully descheduling marijuana.”
Biden’s order will make it easier for those convicted of federal weed possession charges to get a job or access other services. He also encouraged governors to pardon low-level marijuana convictions, most of which occur at the state level.
“It’s already legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities,” Biden said Thursday. “And that’s before you address the racial discrepancies around who suffers the consequences.”
Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called the action “long overdue” and urged lawmakers to pass legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide.
“Congress should be inspired by the administration’s actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the President’s desk that would help close this dark chapter of our history,” he said in a statement.
A recent poll from Morning Consult and Politico found that 60 percent of voters support legalization, including 71 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans.
Khadijah Tribble, CEO of the U.S. Cannabis Council, which represents marijuana companies, said that Biden’s announcement “further reinforces the fact that it’s just a question of when — not if — cannabis is decriminalized altogether.”
“This is a particularly cathartic moment for Black and brown communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” she said in a statement.