As the Biden administration works to conduct a review into the marijuana’s federal scheduling, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers is asking the president to officially get on board with outright legalization.
In a letter obtained by Marijuana Moment on Friday that’s expected to be sent to President Joe Biden and top cabinet officials next week, the lawmakers said that while they appreciate the scheduling review directive, “the administration should recognize the merits of full descheduling.”
“While we do not always agree on specific measures, we recognize across the aisle that continued federal prohibition and criminalization of marijuana does not reflect the will of the broader American electorate,” the letter says. “It is time that your administration’s agenda fully reflect this reality as well.”
Current signatories include Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Brian Mast (R-FL), as Politico first reported. More signatures are still being sought ahead of the letter being finalized in the coming days.
“Marijuana does not belong in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a classification intended for exceptionally dangerous substances with high potential for abuse and no medical use,” the lawmakers’ letter to the president says. “The decision to schedule marijuana was rooted in stigma rather than an evidence-based process, and it is time to fully remedy this wrong.”
“Descheduling marijuana can uphold federal and state authority to regulate cannabis, while also authorizing states that wish to continue to prohibit cannabis production and sales the right to do so,” it continues, noting that the House has twice passed legislation to federally legalize, tax and regulate cannabis.
“Additionally, unjust scheduling of marijuana and normalizing federal cannabis regulation go hand-in-hand—like ending restrictions placing disproportionate burden on researchers seeking to study marijuana compared to other Schedule I substances. The federal government must correct this prohibition and the continued criminalization of otherwise legal marijuana—allowing research to meaningfully advance, creating legal job opportunities, promoting public safety not unjust incarceration, and upholding established state regulation of cannabis production, taxation, and sales.”
“We cannot negate the need for legislative action and federal guidance on many of these components, but all branches of the federal government must recognize the need for the descheduling of marijuana and in a manner that protects the will of each state and the markets and regulations that are within their authority to establish,” it says.
The coalition is circulating this letter as congressional leaders work against the clock to enact more modest marijuana banking and expungements legislation during what’s left of the lame duck session.
A senior Senate Democratic aide told Marijuana Moment on Friday that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is “making a last ditch effort” to put the incremental reform in forthcoming omnibus appropriations legislation—but key players like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) have posed obstacles.
Advocates certainly would like to see broader legalization enacted sooner than later, but it’s become apparent that there’s currently not enough support in the Senate to garner the required 60 votes for passage.
The letter that will be sent to Biden doesn’t necessarily ask that he take unilateral action to end prohibition, but it suggests that his support for the issue could make a critical difference. As it stands, the president supports decriminalization and letting states set their own policies—but he’s been unwilling to back federal legalization so far.
“Descheduling is necessary to end the harmful federal marijuana prohibition and help our law enforcement officers appropriately prioritize public safety,” the coalition says. “Descheduling also provides the clearest path to address the legal uncertainty facing small businesses in states with regulated cannabis markets. by creating opportunities for regulating and taxing commercial marijuana activities.”
“We expect the Departments of Health and Human Services and Justice to continue to expeditiously conduct your directed review of marijuana’s scheduling. While Congress works to send you comprehensive cannabis legislation, the urgency of full descheduling should inform the Administration’s position on overall cannabis reform. Marijuana’s continued inappropriate scheduling is both arcane and out-of-touch with the will of the American people. We look forward to your Administration working transparently and proactively with Congress to enact this crucial step.”
U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is CCed on the undated letter, recently tweeted a link to a Marijuana Moment article that discusses the president’s administrative cannabis scheduling directive.
“We’re going to take a look at what science tells us and what the evidence tells us,” Becerra, who has a considerable record supporting cannabis reform as a congressman and as California’s attorney general, said at the recent overdose prevention event. “That will guide what we do—and we hope that will guide what the federal government does.”
Following the president’s cannabis pardons and scheduling announcement, the secretary said that the department would “work as quickly as we can” to carry out the scientific review. And he’s already discussed the issue with the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to that end.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department is also leading the scheduling review, is also CCed on the lawmakers’ letter.
Separately, the White House drug czar said recently that that the president’s action was “historic,” adding that there are “clearly” medical benefits of cannabis.
Like HHS, DOJ has similarly committed to quickly carrying out the separate scheduling review the president directed, which could result in a recommendation to place cannabis in a lower schedule or remove it altogether, effectively legalizing the plant under federal law.
Separately, Biden recently cheered a move by Oregon’s governor to grant tens of thousands of marijuana pardons this month, which followed his own federal clemency action. And he says other states should “follow Oregon’s example.”
The president also officially signed a marijuana research bill into law this month, making history by enacting the first piece of standalone federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history.
A series of polls have shown that Americans strongly support the president’s pardon action, and they also don’t think that marijuana should be federally classified as a Schedule I drug.
Read the letter to Biden that bipartisan lawmakers plan to send next week below: