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Ahead Of 4/20 White House Says Biden Has Been ‘Very Clear’ In Supporting Marijuana Decriminalization, But Admin Is Awaiting DOJ Rescheduling Action



President Joe Biden has been “very, very clear” about his support for decriminalizing marijuana, the White House said on the eve of 4/20. But currently, the administration is waiting for the Justice Department to complete its review into cannabis scheduling and doesn’t have any additional updates on advancing reform or further expanding pardons.

During a briefing on Friday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked to respond to advocates’ criticism that Biden has not yet fulfilled his campaign pledge to federally decriminalize marijuana, even though he has taken meaningful steps by directing the scheduling review and granting hundreds of cannabis pardons.

“Look, on decriminalization the president has been very, very clear he doesn’t believe that anyone should be in jail or be prosecuted just for using or possessing marijuana,” she said. “He continues to say that. He believes that.”

This is the second time the White House has been asked about marijuana policy in the last week, as discussions around reform have been amplified in the run-up to the cannabis holiday 4/20. As was the case earlier this week, Jean-Pierre reiterated that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) based on a review that was “guided by evidence [and] by science,” which is “what we believe here in this administration.”

“The scheduling review is now with the Department of Justice. Certainly, the process is still going—the review is still going—so DOJ has this,” she said. “But the president has been really, really clear about how he feels about people being prosecuted just for using or possessing marijuana. That has not changed.”

Asked whether there are any plans to further expand on the marijuana pardons the president has issued, the press secretary said “as it relates to pardons, I don’t have anything to preview at this time.”

“But look, there’s a review that Department of Justice is currently undergoing, so we’ve got to let them do their review,” she said. “The president has been pretty clear on where he stands on this, and so I would refer to Department of Justice on on rescheduling and their review.”

While the administration has repeatedly promoted Biden’s marijuana scheduling directive and pardons, especially in recent months as the presidential election approaches, it’s notable that the press secretary used the word “decriminalization” to discuss his position on the issue. Biden campaigned on decriminalization, but that specific language hasn’t been employed of late.

That might have to do with the reality that even moving marijuana to Schedule III as HHS has recommended would not, in fact, decriminalize it—nor do the president’s clemency actions to date constitute a formal decriminalization policy.

That’s why a group of 20 justice and drug reform advocacy organizations called on Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to publicly support the removal of marijuana from the CSA, rather than merely a move to Schedule III, in a letter to the White House on Tuesday, as a reporter referenced in his questions to Jean-Pierre on Friday.

While DEA has not given a specific sense of timing for when it will complete and submit its cannabis review, there are heightened expectations that it will come before the November election—both because of past precedent in scheduling matters and because the Biden administration has become increasingly vocal about its role in facilitating the review.

Biden has continued to tout the marijuana scheduling directive and cannabis pardons he’s issued, including in a presidential proclamation declaring April “Second Chance Month.”

The president also discussed the marijuana actions in a historic context last month, during his State of the Union address.

Harris, meanwhile, separately urged DEA to finish its review and reschedule marijuana “as quickly as possible” while meeting pardon recipients for a roundtable event at the White House last month. Behind closed doors, she also said “we need to legalize marijuana.”

The head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under HHS told congressional lawmakers last week that there’s “no reason” for DEA to “delay” making a marijuana scheduling decision.

A DEA official recently said it sometimes takes up to six months for DEA to complete its analysis of health officials’ scheduling recommendations—which is just about how long it has now been since the agency began its current cannabis assessment.

Meanwhile, last month, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra defended his agency’s rescheduling recommendation during a Senate committee hearing and also told cannabis lobbyist Don Murphy that he should pay DEA a visit and “knock on their door” for answers about the timing of their decision.

Certain DEA officials are reportedly resisting the Biden administration’s rescheduling push, disputing the HHS findings on marijuana’s safety profile and medical potential, according to unnamed sources who spoke with The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, a Democratic congressman said on Friday that this Saturday will be the “last 4/20 celebration that cannabis will be on Schedule I,” adding that he’s “quite confident” the GOP House will take up a bipartisan cannabis banking bill if lawmakers “break this loose in the Senate.”

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