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VP Harris To Meet With Marijuana Pardon Recipients At White House This Week As Biden Leans Into Issue Ahead Of Election



Vice President Kamala Harris will be meeting with cannabis pardon recipients at the White House on Friday to discuss their experiences under the president’s clemency proclamations, and Marijuana Moment has spoken exclusively to one of the invited participants.

Staff with the VP’s office started reaching out to people who were pardoned under President Joe Biden’s 2022 and 2023 proclamations earlier this year, taking meetings as officials worked to better understand how they’ve navigated the process, which has also involved Justice Department issuing certificates for the pardons.

On Friday, Harris is set to meet with three cannabis pardon recipients for a “roundtable conversation about marijuana reform” in which she will “highlight various actions that the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to advance long-overdue criminal justice reforms,” a White House official told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris have consistently delivered on their pledge to advance justice reforms,” they said. “This includes pardoning tens of thousands of people for federal marijuana possession and commuting unjustly long sentences for nonviolent drug offense.”

One of the individuals who will take part in Friday’s event is a longtime cannabis activist, Chris Goldstein, who recently received a pardon certificate from DOJ after being formally forgiven for a 2014 cannabis possession case during a protest advocating for federal marijuana policy reform.

“Three of us will discuss the real impact of our federal marijuana convictions and then getting our presidential pardons. Thousands of people are still eligible, and this event should help raise awareness for more people to apply,” Goldstein, who serves as a NORML regional organizer in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, told Marijuana Moment.

“We will help represent tens of millions of Americans who have been arrested for marijuana in nearly a century of prohibition,” he said. “A few grams of cannabis have been the premise of harassment and discrimination for untold millions more of us.”

Goldstein, who recently received a pardon certificate after being formally forgiven for a 2014 federal possession case, said that he met with U.S. Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer over the last month to go over the logistics of the event. Oyer’s office has been overseeing the clemency certification process.

“President Nixon declared a war on people over the premise of drugs. As a Quaker I’m an optimist about civics and I’ve been working to end federal marijuana prohibition for 25 years,” Goldstein said on Wednesday. “So it’s an honor to be invited into the White House in 2024 as President Biden and Vice President Harris looks towards the future of cannabis policy.”

“As an old activist, getting invited to the White House has made me turn from Ron Swanson to Leslie Knope in about a week,” he said. “My index cards are prepared.”

Also participating in Friday’s event will be Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who has taken executive action to reform marijuana laws in his state. Rapper Fat Joe will also be involved in the roundtable, as Reuters first reported.

While the purpose of the meeting is focused on the president’s clemency action—which he historically touted in his State of the Union address last week—the event seems to be the latest signal that the administration is hoping to appeal to voters ahead of the November election by promoting an issue with bipartisan popularity, especially among critical young voters.

The president’s mention of his marijuana pardons and administrative scheduling review directive during last week’s speech before a joint session of Congress was a key acknowledgement to that end. And it was well-received, evidenced in part by the massive social media response it elicited.

The popularity of administrative cannabis reform was also underscored in a recent poll that showed how Biden’s marijuana moves stand to benefit him in November. The survey found the president’s favorability spiked after people were made aware of the possibility that cannabis could be rescheduled under the Biden-initiated review.

That said, the president did again misstate the scope of his administrative actions on marijuana, falsely asserting that he expunged thousands of records when, in fact, a pardon does not clear a person’s record.

Harris, for her part, also faced criticism last month after sharing a video where she claimed the administration had “changed federal marijuana policy.” While Biden has issued thousands of simple possession pardons and directed the ongoing review into federal cannabis scheduling, the law itself has not changed at this point, and campaign pledges to decriminalize marijuana have yet gone unfulfilled.

The vice president’s video also showed a map with incorrect information on which states have legalized cannabis to date.

Following its review, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) advised the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

While that possibility evidently moves the needle for Biden among the general public, equity-focused advocates have stressed the point that it would not legalize marijuana, nor would it do anything to address the decades of harm under prohibition. It would allow state cannabis to take federal tax deductions that they’re currently barred from under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E, however.

Whether DEA accepts the HHS recommendation is yet to be seen. And while many expect an announcement will happen before the election, the timeline is uncertain.

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.

The Biden administration was recently pressed to reschedule marijuana by two coalitions representing military veterans and law enforcement—including a group that counts DEA Administrator Anne Milgram among its members.

On the president’s pardon action, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment last month that the clemency should be “extended all the way out, and any unintended or intended consequences of the war on drugs should be dealt with to repair the damage.”

Former Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), however, told Marijuana Moment that he’s been “very pleased” with Biden’s clemency actions, arguing that the president has “taken some pretty, in my opinion, bold steps.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army recently clarified in a branch-wide notice that marijuana possession violations under the military drug code weren’t eligible under the president’s pardons. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) called it a “mistake” to exclude military from the relief.

DEA Officials Reportedly At Odds With Biden Admin Over Marijuana Rescheduling Push

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