OPINION: Biden takes interesting steps toward marijuana’s relationship with federal law

President Joe Biden took three monumental steps toward marijuana reform when he announced a pardon on “all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.” He also listed two other steps to “end this failed approach:” He asked all governors to follow his example and he asked for a review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.

An estimated 6,500 people will benefit from the absolution. Though marijuana is still criminalized at the federal level, 19 states (plus the District of Columbia and Guam) have fully legalized cannabis and 39 have legalized medicinal marijuana for adult residents ages 21 and up. I agree with President Biden’s declaration “that no one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana.” While Biden’s proposal will remove barriers for individuals who were arrested merely because they used marijuana, it’s important to remember that only federal charges will be expunged. If somebody was charged at the state level, it is up to the governor to drop charges of simple possession. 

It is a step in the right direction, but there is still more progress to be made. Maritza Perez, who is in charge of federal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said ”the bill does nothing for equity. It would not level the playing field in any way.” In 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes than white Americans.

The third part of Biden’s announcement, calling for the rescheduling of marijuana, has the potential to be the most impactful. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and is in the same category as heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide and methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration defines Schedule I drugs as having  “no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Contrary to DEA’s definition, studies show that medicinal marijuana can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, HIV/Aids, severe and chronic pain, and other health issues.

Despite decades of approaching marijuana incorrectly, it is not too late to right the ship. I hope that one day marijuana is fully legalized in America. The current system of having it vary by state lines is ridiculous. With that being said, there is also a dangerous notion out there that marijuana is harmless. I would place it in the same category as alcohol — in the sense that it can be legally sold to and used by adults, ages 21 and up in controlled environments. The battle is still far from over, but President Biden’s proposal is a step in the right direction.