Promises, promises

Beautiful flag of canabis, marijuana,weed , pot waving with the strong wind and behind it the dome of the Capitol USA 3D RENDER, 3D RENDERING.

Election season is upon us. Candidates are campaigning, the company formerly known as Twitter (now X) is bubbling with political activity, and, of course, Congress critters are batting around the topic of marijuana legalization once again on Capitol Hill. But this time things might be different, thanks to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 

In a letter dated Aug. 29, 2023, a top official from DHHS wrote to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) head Anne Milgram recommending cannabis be made a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). It’s the first time in the history of cannabis prohibition that a major government agency has recognized the misclassification of cannabis as a drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The resulting political ripple has reinvigorated advocates and the cannabis discussion among lawmakers. On Sept. 1, when White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the potential impact of moving marijuana to Schedule III, she responded, “The president has always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”

Indeed, the “decriminalization of cannabis” was one of the major campaign promises listed on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign website in 2020. However, “always” seems like a strong word to use for someone who, in 2010, said, “I still believe it’s a gateway drug,” and “legalization is a mistake.”

Nevertheless, in October 2022, Biden pardoned some 6,500 federal convictions for cannabis possession crimes, encouraged all governors to pardon state marijuana possession offenses, and requested that Attorney General Xavier Becerra initiate a “review” of how cannabis is scheduled as a narcotic (Weed Between the Lines, “Tastes like crow,” Oct. 13, 2022). 

That review is supposed to wrap up around the end of this year, according to Becerra. In June he told Marijuana Moment that DHHS and DEA were working together to land on an answer based on science and evidence. 

“Stay tuned,” Bacerra said. “We hope to be able to get there pretty soon — hopefully this year.”

Following Jean-Pierre’s statement, numerous politicians have backed him up. 

 On X, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) wrote, “As a member of the Cannabis Caucus, I know that Nevada has shown regulating marijuana like alcohol works, and that’s where we should be headed at the federal level.” 

Colorado’s Sen. John Hickenlooper posted, “This is definitely a step in the right direction. But if we truly want to regulate marijuana while prioritizing social equity, descheduling it is the only option.”

“It’s about time,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wrote in a letter to Biden on Sept. 5. “This is an historic moment and we owe you and your administration a debt of gratitude for your leadership on catching up with where the science is.”

But Polis was also quick to urge the president to take action on banking and Food and Drug Administration enforcement guidance — two of the biggest legal conundrums state cannabis industries face. 

“Because of these federal difficulties, the illicit market and unregulated hemp-derived cannabinoid intoxicants continue to remain,” the governor wrote. “Illegal products are being sold without testing, age verification, or packaging and labeling standards. As public servants who care about the public health and safety of all Americans, we need to put the full weight of our support behind a well-regulated marketplace.”

And that could be on its way if you believe Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In a floor speech on Sept. 5, Schumer said that “making progress on cannabis” through the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was one of the Senate’s top legislative priorities for the coming weeks and months. 

“None of this will be easy,” Schumer said. “The bills will require a lot of work and compromise. But if we can progress on these items, we will greatly improve the lives of average Americans.” 


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