President Joe Biden has announced a three step plan to address the government’s failed approach to regulating marijuana. In a public announcement, President Biden reiterated his campaign position that no one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana. Citing its legality in many states, the president outlined that the need for structural change rises from the fact that current systems create “needless barriers to employment, to housing, and educational opportunities.” He noted that these barriers exist before taking into account “the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white and Black and Brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and Brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionately higher rates.”
Biden then went on to detail the three steps of his plan. 1) Biden will declared a pardon for all previous federal offenses of marijuana possession to alleviate the burden to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. 2) Biden calls on governors across the nation to do the same for state level offenses. 3) Biden asks the Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. Schedule 1 drugs, substances, or chemicals are legally defined within the United States as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, and include drugs like heroin and LSD.
This declaration is huge, both in its scope and its reasoning. The simple act of pardoning federal offenses removes an unnecessary barrier that many face in seeking federal or state assistance. Many advocates — including lawyers, activists, celebrities, and your college roommate who always smelled kind of funny — have argued that marijuana’s classification as Schedule 1 drug is ludicrous, especially given its proved medical efficacy.
On top of that, the acknowledgement that enforcement of marijuana regulation has disproportionately targeted people of color is nice to see. Obviously there is a still a long way to go with this legislation: even with Biden’s urging, state governors have final say at the state level. Furthermore, while there are strong arguments to be made for the full decriminalization of marijuana, this announcement is only the first step in a long process towards that goal. But this is a big first step. Let’s hope that this momentum keeps up.