Six senators are calling on the White House to take executive action on cannabis policy reform and legalization, writing in a letter that the
With the prospect of Congress passing a comprehensive cannabis legalization measure remaining a long shot, the senators called on the Biden administration to “use its existing authority to (i) deschedule cannabis and (ii) issue pardons to all individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses,”
In the letter, which was addressed to President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, the senators wrote that they were following up on a request sent to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) six months ago to “use its existing authority under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) to begin the process of removing cannabis’s classification as a Schedule I drug.”
The senators noted that they had sent a letter to the DOJ in October 2021. In April of this year, they received a “half-page” response that the senators characterized as “extraordinarily disappointing.”
“The Administration’s failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes,” they wrote.
The brief response, the legislators wrote, cited the HHS’s “determination that ‘cannabis has not been proven in scientific studies to be a safe and effective treatment for any disease or condition’ as the sole rationale for the DOJ’s lack of action.”
“But this assertion ignores the ability of the DOJ and Drug Enforcement Administration to begin the descheduling process and act independently of an HHS determination,” the lawmakers wrote, adding the CSA “empowers the Attorney General to initiate proceedings to reschedule or deschedule a drug, either individually or at the request of the HHS Secretary or another interested party.”
Senators Cite Public Support for Cannabis Policy Reform
The lawmakers went on to write that taking action on cannabis reform would be consistent with the will of the people, noting that states across the country continue to legalize marijuana for recreational or medical use.
“There is widespread public support for cannabis legalization, with around two-thirds of the public supporting the legalization of cannabis,”
The senators also noted that cannabis policy reform would address the wide racial disparity in the enforcement of the nation’s drug laws that has been
“The legacy of the War on Drugs is pervasive. It is estimated that over 40,000 individuals are still incarcerated for cannabis related offenses,” the letter reads. “A report released by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2020 found that Black individuals were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession even with comparable usage rates amongst individuals of all races. In some states Black individuals were almost 10 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.”
“We ask that the Biden Administration act quickly to rectify this decade long injustice harming individuals, especially Black and Brown communities,” the six senators added. They noted that the Biden administration has not yet responded to a letter sent by Democrats in November requesting that the president use his authority “to pardon all individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses, whether formerly or currently incarcerated.”
The letter praised the pardons and commutations recently granted by the Biden administration for 78 people convicted of federal crimes, including “nine with non-violent cannabis related offenses,” but they added that “much more has to be done.”