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Congressional Progressive Caucus Urges Biden To Expedite Marijuana Scheduling Review And Push For Federal Guidance



The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is calling on President Joe Biden to direct federal agencies to “expedite” an active marijuana scheduling review and reinstate guidance protecting state cannabis programs from federal interference.

As part of the caucus’s 2023 “Executive Action Agenda,” members said that the president should use his authority to follow up on the scheduling directive that he ordered late last year.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are leading that effort, and officials at both agencies have said that they will carry out the review in a timely manner, though they’ve declined to provide a specific timeline.

CPC, which has more than 100 members this Congress, said Biden should direct HHS and DOJ to “expedite the review of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance and publicly document the progress and planned timeline for rescheduling or de-scheduling.”

Further, the caucus said that the administration should work to “expedite DOJ guidance reinstating protections against federal prosecution and interference in state- and tribal-legal cannabis programs.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said recently that DOJ is finalizing marijuana policy guidance, which would replace an Obama-era memo rescinded under the Trump administration, as it awaits the results and recommendations on cannabis scheduling from HHS.

The caucus, chaired by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), included the cannabis agenda items under a section titled “Advancing Equity and Justice.” The group’s prior agenda for 2022 also featured that general category but did not mention marijuana policy—perhaps a reflection of the increased urgency for executive-level action on the issue with the House now controlled by Republicans.

“Democrats made essential progress in the 117th Congress, and the work continues to lower the cost of living, hold corporations accountable, and keep our promises to our communities,” Jayapal said in a press release last week. “With a divided Congress, President Biden must make full use of his executive authority to continue to deliver for working families.”

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When CPC rolled out its platform in 2020, it called for marijuana to be legalized within the first six months of 2021 and the expungement of prior records.

That hasn’t panned out yet, and the president hasn’t given any indication that he’s become supportive of federal legalization, so the caucus’s latest agenda provides a more realistic framework for what could be achieved administratively this year.

More than a dozen bipartisan congressional lawmakers also sent a letter to top Biden administration officials last month, demanding transparency in the review.

In addition to the scheduling directive, Biden also issued a mass pardon last year for people who’ve committed federal cannabis possession offenses. He’s repeatedly touted the clemency action—most recently as part of a presidential proclamation designating April as “Second Chance Month.”

The Justice Department recently released applications for people who received the pardon to get a formal certification showing that they’ve been forgiven.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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