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President Biden Pledges to Reevaluate Cannabis's Federal Status in Landmark State of the Union Address

During his State of the Union speech on March 7, President Joe Biden declared his intention to instruct his administration to explore the possibility of changing cannabis's classification at the national level. This marked a historic moment as it was the first occasion a U.S. president has included cannabis reform in a State of the Union address.

President Biden emphasized the significance of maintaining public trust through various initiatives, including executive actions on police reform and efforts to reconsider the federal status of cannabis. He highlighted his commitment to justice by mentioning the directive to review cannabis's classification and the initiative to clear convictions for simple possession.

"Because no one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana," Biden stated, echoing his sentiments shared on social media platform X, urging for meaningful expungements rather than the limited pardons provided in 2022 for minor cannabis offenses.

In October 2022, Biden had already made strides in this area by pardoning individuals with nonviolent federal cannabis offenses and requesting the Department of Health and Human Services to assess the possibility of reclassifying cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.

The U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC), established in 2021, has been at the forefront of pushing for federal legalization of cannabis and advocating for restorative justice for those disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. The council praised President Biden's address for bringing national attention to cannabis reform. David Culver, USCC's Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, expressed optimism about the potential reclassification of cannabis to Schedule III, viewing it as a significant step toward reform.

Adam Goers, co-chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform, also commended the President's commitment to modernizing federal cannabis policies. This move towards reclassification would mark a monumental shift in the nation's drug laws, reflecting a progressive approach to cannabis regulation.

However, the conversation around cannabis pardons has been nuanced. Despite the issuance of pardons for federal cannabis possession, critiques have emerged regarding the actual impact of these pardons, with some pointing out that they do not erase the criminal record. Weldon Angelos, a former prisoner, criticized the notion that possession leads to incarceration, calling for more substantial sentence commutations for those with federal marijuana felonies.

The Sentencing Project, prior to Biden's speech, reminded him of his campaign promises to combat mass incarceration and the excessive use of mandatory minimum sentences. With the U.S. experiencing an unprecedented rise in prison populations, disproportionately impacting Black Americans, there is a pressing need for comprehensive reforms that prioritize rehabilitation over punishment and community-based solutions over incarceration.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of merely reclassifying cannabis under Schedule III, highlighting the need for more significant legislative changes. Meanwhile, public support for cannabis reform continues to grow, suggesting potential political gains for Biden from fulfilling these reform initiatives.


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