On January 20th, marking a pivotal moment in U.S. drug policy, the federal government acknowledged a new stance towards cannabis.
President Biden announced presidential pardons for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents with cannabis possession convictions. This move aligns with the evolving legal landscape where 38 states have legalized medicinal cannabis, and 24 states, along with two territories and Washington D.C., have sanctioned recreational use.
Concurrently, President Biden instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare a case for downgrading cannabis from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 3 substance, placing it in a category with substances like testosterone and enhanced Tylenol. This reclassification proposal comes after years of advocacy and shifting perceptions around cannabis.
In a report to the HHS, the U.S. FDA Controlled Substance Staff advocated for this reclassification, citing cannabis's lower abuse potential than Schedule 2 drugs, recognized medical applications, and reduced psycho-physical dependency risks.
The FDA report underscored the relative mildness of cannabis withdrawal symptoms compared to those from substances like alcohol, which can lead to severe reactions including seizures and death. While acknowledging the existence of unverified claims regarding cannabis's medical benefits, the report highlighted substantial scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness in reducing chemotherapy side effects.
If the Drug Enforcement Agency approves this reclassification, it would catalyze transformative changes. The already flourishing multi-billion dollar cannabis industry would benefit from improved banking and tax conditions. Additionally, it would prevent the criminalization of countless individuals, predominantly young adults, for the recreational use of cannabis. Moreover, this change would enable people, especially veterans in states lacking legal access to cannabis, to obtain it safely.
About the Presidential Pardon, Biden declared the failure of the war on drugs and emphasized the need to "right these wrongs." Those with cannabis possession charges, which might hinder employment or housing opportunities, can seek a pardon certificate at Justice.gov, effectively removing the conviction from their record.
President Biden highlighted the detrimental impact of criminal records for marijuana use and possession on individuals' opportunities in employment, housing, and education, calling for a rectification of these past injustices.