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Marijuana Legalization

Members of the advocacy group D.C. Marijuana Justice hold a 51-foot blow-up joint on the National Mall on April 28, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Warren, Sanders, and Others Blast Biden's 'Failure' on Federal Cannabis Policy

While commending Biden's pardons and commutations, six senators wrote that "much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities."

Jessica Corbett

Half a dozen U.S. senators declared Wednesday that the Biden administration's "failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes."

"Biden committed to decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions."

That assertion came in a letter to President Joe Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra. It was signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Booker and Warren last year called on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to use its existing authority to begin the process of removing cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs.

"On April 13, the DOJ responded to our October 6 request for the administration to begin the descheduling process for cannabis. The half-page response, which took over six months, was extraordinarily disappointing," the new letter states, noting that the Justice Department used an HHS determination that "cannabis has not been proven in scientific studies to be a safe and effective treatment for any disease or condition" to justify its lack of action.

Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the DOJ has the power "to begin the descheduling process and act independently of an HHS determination," the letter emphasizes, adding that "it is obvious that cannabis has widely accepted medical benefits, affirmed by medical and scientific communities both here and across the globe."

Though such conclusions by researchers along with public support for decriminalization and even legalization have led several U.S. states and territories to allow medicinal and recreational marijuana, it is still illegal at the federal level.

While campaigning for the White House, "President Biden committed to decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions, and he also acknowledged the importance of removing cannabis from its current classification under the CSA as a Schedule I substance," the letter highlights.

"We commend President Biden's recent pardons and commutations of 78 people, including nine with nonviolent cannabis-related offenses," the document continues. "However, much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities. The legacy of the war on drugs is pervasive."

As Marijuana Moment reported Wednesday:

The recently appointed U.S. pardon attorney weighed in on the prospects of mass cannabis clemency last week, telling Marijuana Moment that her office handles cases independently, but it could be empowered to issue broader commutations or pardons if directed by the president.

Biden has received about a dozen letters from lawmakers, advocates, celebrities, and people impacted by criminalization to do something about the people who remain behind federal bars over cannabis.

In April, just three Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives joined all but two Democrats to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would decriminalize cannabis nationwide, expunge federal convictions and arrests, and provide resources for communities targeted by the nation's drug war.

Although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to introduce similar legislation before the August recess, passage would require the support of not only all Democrats but also 10 Republicans, due to the chamber's filibuster rule.

Noting that five House Republicans introduced their own legalization bill last year, Marijuana Moment pointed out Wednesday that "high-level talks are reportedly underway for an alternative, and arguably more passable, approach, with bicameral and bipartisan lawmakers discussing the possibility of moving a package of incremental cannabis reform measures that would stop short of descheduling marijuana."

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