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Social Workers Push Biden To Fully Decriminalize Marijuana Under Federal Law, Not Just Reschedule It



Nearly 150 social workers have signed on to a letter urging President Joe Biden to fully remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), arguing that despite the administration’s proposal to downgrade cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, there’s nevertheless a “critical need for decriminalization.”

“The criminalization of marijuana has torn apart families, with overwhelmingly disparate impact in communities of color,” says the letter, sent to the president by 148 social workers last week. “If marijuana remains scheduled under the CSA, the individual and collective suffering caused by prohibition will continue growing.”

The letter points out that under current law, people convicted of drug offenses can lose public benefits, including welfare aid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as well as access to housing.

“By virtue of our profession, we have witnessed the grievous harm that marijuana criminalization has caused,” it says. “If marijuana remains scheduled, parents will lose their children, children will lose their homes, and beloved members of our households will be deprived of essential benefits.”

Despite overwhelming support for legalization, it adds, “the use of marijuana remains a federal crime”—which would still be true in most cases even after federal rescheduling.

The current patchwork of state and local laws has also led to sharply different circumstances across the country, the letter continues, arguing that the “piecemeal approach towards legalization has created significant disparities in opportunities and outcomes.”

“While communities in legal states can build wealth from legal marijuana sales and benefit from regulations that ensure a safe, unaltered product,” it says, “other communities are subject to losing their homes, their occupations, their families, and their freedom over the same substance. The disparities in marijuana laws stand in stark opposition to the 88% of Americans who support legalization.”

“Approximately 80% of all children in the foster care system are removed from their homes for drug-related causes,” it adds.

The letter calls on Biden to take executive action “to end some of these harms now” while also supporting reform legislation in Congress

“This is what our families need to thrive,” the social workers said.

Consequences of prohibition, they pointed out, have disproportionately fallen on communities of color.

“Criminalizing marijuana has resulted in the arrest and incarceration of millions of Americans, mostly people of color, for many decades,” Mel Wilson, senior policy advisor at the National Association of Social Workers, said in a press release about the letter sent by the group United for Marijuana Decriminalization. “In its decision to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule III drug, the Biden Administration is misguided if it thinks it is righting a wrong. On the contrary, such a rescheduling decision actually perpetuates an injustice. Therefore, social workers must urge President Biden to reconsider its current position by fully decriminalizing marijuana.”

Chelsea Higgs Wise, who has a background in social work and serves as executive director of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice—a member organization of United for Marijuana Decriminalization—said activists “have long championed decriminalization and descheduling, as rescheduling is inadequate.”

“It doesn’t address past harms and is a minimal effort considering the immense damage caused by the drug war,” she said. “Given that this move primarily benefits big business while doing little for those directly impacted by the drug war, some might even see this inadequate measure as an act of violence.”

Montae Taylor, a coordinator at Marijuana Justice, called social workers “the champions of change.”

“Their support for this petition echoes their unwavering commitment to justice and equality,” Taylor said. “Their signatures are more than just names; they’re symbols of hope and resilience.”

Other groups behind United for Marijuana Decriminalization include the Drug Policy Alliance, National Cannabis Industry Association, Parabola Center, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers, Minority Cannabis Business Association and Better Organizing to Win Legalization.

Another advocate backing federal decriminalization is Cat Packer, the director of drug markets and legal regulation at the Drug Policy Alliance and a vice chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition. In an op-ed in Marijuana Moment last month on behalf of United for Marijuana Decriminalization, she urged supporters of cannabis reform to “weigh in on federal marijuana policy and demand an end to cannabis criminalization” by submitting comments about the rescheduling proposal.

United for Marijuana Decriminalization has also launched what Packer called “a simple tool that individuals can use to easily submit a comment in support of federal marijuana decriminalization.”

The Department of Justice is accepting comments on the rescheduling proposal until July 22. It’s expected to draw major responses from reformers and opponents alike.

Groups against cannabis rescheduling are also calling on the government to hold a formal administrative hearing on the proposal, which is one of a number of tactics they will use to oppose the change.

Some prohibitionist groups have been fundraising around the rescheduling news, including the organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has also asked DEA to delay the marijuana rescheduling process itself. It’s argued that a delay in the rulemaking process is a matter of “public interest.”

Read the full letter from the social workers to President Biden below:

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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