Equity Advocates ‘Correct The Record’ On Biden’s Marijuana Actions And Shortcomings Of Anticipated Schedule III Move - Read of Green
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Equity Advocates ‘Correct The Record’ On Biden’s Marijuana Actions And Shortcomings Of Anticipated Schedule III Move

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Source: Marijuana Moment

A coalition of drug policy reform advocates is seeking to “correct the record” on the Biden administration’s marijuana policy achievements, calling attention to unfulfilled campaign promises to Black and brown communities on cannabis reform and criticizing the limitations of incremental rescheduling.

During a virtual press briefing organized by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) on Wednesday, representatives of multiple equity-focused cannabis organizations pushed back on the administration’s modest reform steps, contending that anything short of ending federal marijuana criminalization would represent a disservice to the communities most impacted under prohibition.

Maritza Perez Medina, director of federal affairs at DPA, stressed during the briefing that moving marijuana to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), is “something that our communities cannot accept.”

“As long as marijuana remains anywhere on the CSA, the harms of federal marijuana criminalization will continue,” she said.

Cat Packer, vice chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) and director of drug markets and legal regulation at DPA, said the Biden administration’s commentary around its marijuana policy achievements “illustrates the need for Black and brown communities to correct the record of what promises have been made to our communities and whether any promises have been kept.”

President Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to federally decriminalize marijuana—and he’s said repeatedly that nobody should be incarcerated over cannabis. But despite granting pardons for people who’ve committed certain federal marijuana possession offenses and directing a scheduling review, those broader promises have not yet been achieved.

“Rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III—the outcome that is anticipated to result from the Biden administration’s actions—would continue the very criminalization that Biden said that he would end and is the very type of incrementalism that [Vice President Kamala Harris] criticized in 2020,” Packer said. “Where’s the accountability to Black and brown communities to whom these reforms were promised?”

The group’s position on the limitations and potential consequences of an incremental rescheduling move aligned with what Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment last week. The congresswoman, a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that she worried moving marijuana to Schedule III could set the country back “another 50 years” on the path to federal legalization.

Dr. Rachel Knox, board chair for the Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine, told Marijuana Moment during Wednesday’s event that “Congresswoman Lee is correct.”

“Rescheduling is not progress. Rescheduling is immediate regression,” she said.

“Rescheduling would be a historic mistake and failure for two key reasons: First, it fails to address the historically unprecedented harms caused by scheduling cannabis in the first place. And secondly, it would make further reform nearly impossible. There would be no further political will to do so, because those with the most social and political capital right now would be satisfied with rescheduling cannabis.”

On the rescheduling issue, the Biden administration was recently pressed to move marijuana to Schedule III by two coalitions representing military veterans and law enforcement—including a group that counts DEA Administrator Anne Milgram among its members.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the founding Cannabis Caucus co-chair, has also urged DEA to release more information about its own ongoing review, including what its “planned deadline” is for finishing and whether it will take into account the fact that many states have already legalized cannabis.

The correspondence came in response to a recent assertion from DEA that it has “final authority” on the rescheduling decision—which itself was a reply to a separate letter from Blumenauer and 30 other bipartisan lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA) recently sent a letter to DEA’s Milgram urging the agency “reject any argument” that rescheduling marijuana under federal law would constitute a violation of international treaty obligations. She is also asking the agency to reveal a list of any “outside partners” it has met with to discuss the global implications of a potential cannabis reclassification.

On the other side of the issue, a Republican congressman who has long opposed marijuana reform claimed in a letter to DEA that FDA came to a “misguided conclusion” to recommend rescheduling cannabis, challenging the health agency’s scientific standards and imploring DEA to dismiss them as it prepares to make a final determination.

A separate letter sent to Milgram last month—led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other champions of marijuana reform—urged DEA to go further than rescheduling by fully removing cannabis from the CSA.

Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said last month that his agency has “communicated” its “position” on marijuana rescheduling to DEA and has continued to offer additional information to assist with the final determination.

Prior to HHS releasing a trove of documents concerning its cannabis recommendation, a coalition of 12 Democratic state attorneys general implored DEA to move forward with federal marijuana rescheduling, calling the policy change a “public safety imperative.”

In another letter in December, 29 former U.S. attorneys called on the Biden administration to leave cannabis in Schedule I.

Also that month, the governors of six U.S. states—Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Louisiana—sent a letter to Biden calling on the administration to reschedule marijuana by the end of last year.

Meanwhile, six former DEA heads and five former White House drug czars sent a letter to the attorney general and current DEA administrator voicing opposition to the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana. They also made a questionable claim about the relationship between drug schedules and criminal penalties in a way that could exaggerate the potential impact of the incremental reform.

Signatories include DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy heads under multiple administrations led by presidents of both major parties.

A coalition of 14 Republican congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, separately urged DEA to “reject” the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana and instead keep it in the most restrictive category under the CSA.

A recent poll found that about one-third of marijuana consumers say they would go back to the illicit market if cannabis was rescheduled and only made legally available as an FDA-approved prescription drug.

Another recent survey found that President Joe Biden stands to make significant political gains if marijuana is rescheduled under his administrative directive. Of course, Biden doesn’t directly control the final outcome.

The president has routinely touted his 2022 scheduling directive, as well as a mass pardon he granted for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses. He followed up on that action in December with a renewed and expanded pardon proclamation. The Justice Department has already begun issuing certifications for people who applied under the second round.

Vice President Kamala Harris’s office has been reaching out to people who’ve received a cannabis pardon—seeking assurance that the Justice Department certification process is going smoothly and engaging in broader discussions about cannabis policy reform, according to a pardon recipient who was contacted.

Separately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently highlighted its scientific review into marijuana that led the agency to recommend rescheduling—a process that involved a comprehensive analysis of research, as well looking at hundreds of posts on social media platforms to see how consumers described cannabis’s therapeutic impact.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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