The White House is promoting President Joe Biden’s mass marijuana pardon and scheduling review directive as part of a “Fight for Our Freedom” campaign meant to “mobilize young people” as next year’s election approaches.
A factsheet about the campaign that the administration published on Thursday contains a section dedicated to the president’s cannabis reform actions from late last year titled, “Addressing a Failed Approach to Marijuana.”
“The criminalization of marijuana possession has upended too many lives—for conduct that is now legal in many states,” it says. “While white, Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are more likely to be in jail for it.”
The youth outreach campaign will involve a college tour featuring Vice President Kamala Harris that begins at Hampton College on Thursday. The vice president will visit a total of seven colleges across the country over the next month, though its unclear if she will explicitly tout the administration’s cannabis reform actions on campuses.
Young leaders are driving change on campus, in their communities, and around our country.
That's why I am excited to hit the road for my Fight For Our Freedoms College Tour, hear directly from students, and work alongside them in the fight for our rights. pic.twitter.com/QnVeOLnyEo
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) September 13, 2023
The factsheet, meanwhile, lists the steps Biden took last year to facilitate cannabis relief and instruct agencies to carry out a review into marijuana scheduling.
“The president announced a full, unconditional, and categorical pardon for prior federal and DC simple marijuana possession offenses,” it says. “This pardon lifts barriers to housing, employment, and educational opportunities for thousands of people with prior convictions under federal and D.C. law for simple marijuana possession.”
For context, Biden’s clemency action only impacted about 6,500 people who committed the federal possession offense and those who’ve violated the law in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) detailed the demographics of those who received a pardon in an analysis last year.
Multiple groups, including immigrants and those who’ve been charged with selling marijuana, were excluded from the presidential pardon. No one will be released from behind bars as a result of the president’s move, and there are an estimated 2,800 people currently in federal prison for marijuana convictions that aren’t limited to simple possession.
The White House factsheet for the youth campaign that’s now underway also notes that the president encouraged governors across the U.S. to follow his lead and provide state-level relief to those with prior marijuana convictions.
It goes on to say that “because this administration is guided by science and evidence,” he requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and attorney general “begin the administrative process of reviewing how marijuana is classified under federal law and undertake it expeditiously.”
To that end, HHS did complete its scientific review after 11 months and has recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in new report that such a move would have “broad implications for federal policy.”
Biden hasn’t personally commented on HHS’s rescheduling recommendation, but the White House press secretary did say last month that the president has been “very clear” that he’s “always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”
Of course, it’s not accurate to say that Biden has “always” backed cannabis reform. As a senator he championed several pieces of legislation that ramped up the war on drugs.
In any case, the administration has repeatedly leveraged the president’s cannabis reform actions as an example of how he is making good on campaign pledges and promoting progressive policy, even if it falls short of decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing medical marijuana as he said he’d work to do.
In June, Biden marked the holiday Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation that promoted his mass marijuana pardon and scheduling review directive, for example.
The White House also argued that the president’s pardons could lift social and economic barriers as part of a factsheet that was released ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address in February.
Also that month, the president separately signed an executive order on promoting equity within the White House and federal agencies that also mentioned the earlier marijuana pardons.
Biden issued a proclamation declaring April “Second Chance Month” for people who have served time in prison, and in the document he took the opportunity to promote his marijuana pardons and address the collateral consequences of cannabis convictions.
In July, The White House drug czar said that the president’s marijuana reform actions last year were part of an effort to create cohesive cannabis policy within a patchwork of state legalization models.