op-ed – The Hill feeds some reality into the narrative: Marijuana rescheduling falls short of expectations on Biden

We’ve read a lot of opinion since labor day most of it mind numbingly pointless. A dose of commonsense from the Hill. The key word is  “minimal”

The Biden administration’s recommendation last week for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reschedule marijuana marked one of its most significant steps related to the president’s ambitious campaign promise to decriminalize cannabis use.

But advocates and policy experts say rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) does not address the plethora of racial justice issues caused by current cannabis laws.

“Rescheduling doesn’t address … the harm to marginalized communities,” said Natacha Andrews, executive director for the National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers.

“It doesn’t address the over policing, it doesn’t address the immigration issues, it doesn’t address the access to federal services, and it’s not in alignment with what 38 states have done to regulate and legalize.”

Under its current scheduling, marijuana is rated at the most stringent level — as a Schedule I controlled substance — on par with methamphetamines and more severe than fentanyl.

This designation means authorities consider the drug to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has reportedly advised a shift down to Schedule III.

The DEA has final say in changing marijuana’s scheduling and is not bound to abide by HHS’s recommendation.

“My initial reaction is that this is less than what the Biden administration promised specifically,” said Cat Packer, director of drug markets and legal regulation at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

“This decision kind of leaves me and other communities that are concerned about the harmful impacts of cannabis criminalization wondering how President Biden is going to keep his promises around specifically decriminalizing personal use.”

Changing marijuana’s schedule under the CSA is not the same as decriminalizing marijuana use.

The Biden administration’s goal for decriminalizing marijuana has been presented as a social justice action from the beginning. During a town hall event in October 2020, then-candidate Biden voiced his opinion that marijuana should be decriminalized and said, “ I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use.”

Two years later, he followed through on part of his promise when he announced pardons for everyone convicted of marijuana possession under federal law. Along with the pardons, Biden directed the HHS secretary and the attorney general to review how marijuana is scheduled.

When reached for comment for this story, a White House spokesperson reiterated that the review of marijuana’s scheduling is an independent process run by HHS and the DEA.

Moving marijuana’s designation down to Schedule III would essentially mean the federal government acknowledges marijuana has some medical uses, but it doesn’t change its status as a prohibited substance.

“What Biden promised and what people are crying out for is a combination of decriminalization and equity and neither of those things are even remotely addressed by going from Schedule I to Schedule III,” Andrews said. “It takes people who already have access, who already have resources, who already have connections, who already have politicians in their pocket and it gives them a leg up.”

That’s not to say there won’t be some gains, but they will be minimal, Andrews said.

Marijuana rescheduling falls short of expectations on Biden

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