Biden also asked the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to review how the federal government classifies marijuana under federal drug laws, which could lead to marijuana being classified as a drug with both medicinal benefits and abuse potential. This review of marijuana’s placement on the calendar could take a long time.
Biden’s decisions could affect some congressional midterm elections. But most of the action regarding marijuana legalization remains in the United States. Here’s why.
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How Biden’s decision could affect the 2022 midterm elections
In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Biden adopted some of the more conservative views on marijuana compared to those of his party rivals. However, Democrats have still made marijuana reform a key part of their 2020 platform, promising to decriminalize marijuana use and change its federal classification. Whatever Biden’s personal views, his recent actions follow the party platform to a T.
This is not so surprising, especially on the eve of hotly contested midterm elections. It’s a popular policy, especially with voters of color, young Democrats and independents. The single candidate with the most to gain is probably John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. Running in the most reversible Senate seat for Democrats, Fetterman has made marijuana legalization central to his campaign and his final four years as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. Fetterman spoke with Biden about marijuana reform at a Labor Day event in Pittsburgh, so the fortuitous timing of the White House action allows him to claim some credit in a key race for Democrats.
Also, public views on marijuana have changed rapidly, which we talked about here at TMC a few years ago, after Oklahoma voters approved one of the nation’s most liberal marijuana policies. of medical marijuana. More broadly, since 1969, Gallup has been asking Americans if they think the use of marijuana should be legal. The proportion of Americans supporting legalization has steadily increased from just 12% in 1969 to 68% in 2021, with even half of Republicans now supporting legalization. And when surveys distinguish between medical and recreational marijuana, nine out of 10 Americans believe that at least medical use should be legal.
Biden’s broad marijuana pardon has precedents — like the amnesty for Vietnam War dodgers.
Cannabis remains a problem for states
In announcing the changes, Biden made it clear that the real action remains in the states. Biden called on governors to similarly pardon state possession offenses. If governors comply, pardons could extend to millions of people. In 2019 alone, more than 500,000 people were arrested for cannabis-related offences. Between 2001 and 2010, 8.2 million Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses, nearly 90% of them for simple possession, falling disproportionately on people of color.
Still, the full impact of Biden’s order cannot yet be known. First, drug crime data is reported inconsistently and does not separate possession charges from distribution charges. Second, a few states have already started overturning marijuana convictions. Third, it is unclear whether Biden will introduce incentives for state compliance. In addition, the clemency power of some governors is limited or delegated to other bodies. Several governors and gubernatorial candidates have already weighed in, with predictable partisan commentary. Democratic governors and candidates accept the announcement of grace, otherwise claim a credit for having already addressed the problem in their state. Most Republican governors and candidates have remained silent, skeptical or defiant.
Notably, the states have been innovative despite the administrative hurdles created by the federal ban. Thirty-seven states have adopted comprehensive medical marijuana programs since 1996; 19 states have adopted recreational programs since 2012. During this time, states have worked through the challenges of implementing medical and recreational marijuana programs through trial and error and learning from other states. Recently, more and more states have addressed industry concerns related to social equity and corporate monopolies – trying to ensure that communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the ban get a stake in the industry once the distribution is legal.
Biden’s decision could facilitate this innovation at the state level, while removing some of the more direct ways in which federal prohibition complicates state marijuana policies. The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug has limited medical research. Additionally, the federal ban is costly for the marijuana industry, including making it difficult or impossible for these companies to have bank accounts, apply for loans, or take advantage of tax breaks that other companies rely on. to remain profitable.
Joe Biden could swing the votes by legalizing cannabis
Taking the heat from Congress to act?
Nearly three-quarters of House and Senate lawmakers come from states with a comprehensive medical or adult-use marijuana program. National lawmakers — including those not from states where marijuana is legal — have increasingly attempted to introduce bills that would completely overhaul federal marijuana policy or address some of the specific issues of the cannabis industry, such as access to banking services. Still, the Brookings Institution recently noted that congressional candidates said little about marijuana in the 2022 election cycle.
Biden’s decision could relieve some of the pressure on Congress to act. When Congress failed to change immigration laws, the Obama administration launched the DACA and DAPA programs to at least protect young undocumented immigrants and their parents from deportation. Going by executive order reduced pressure on Congress to act – but left the policy open to reversal by a Republican administration, although Donald Trump did not. Nonetheless, a lawsuit has derailed DAPA and DACA remains in court.
Could a future Republican president reverse the Biden administration’s changes? Perhaps a GOP chair could order a new review of the classification. But of course, a future president could not rescind the pardons.
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A. Lee Hannah (@LeeHannahWSUlisten)) is an associate professor of political science at Wright State University School of Social Sciences and International Studies.
Daniel J Mallinson (@djmallinsonlisten)) is an assistant professor of public policy and administration at Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Public Affairs.