They say it’s better late than never, and for President Biden, that means steamrolling through some of his almost forgotten campaign promises ahead of the 2022 midterms. From student debt to climate change, the Biden administration has implemented the progressive policies he promised, and now that includes marijuana. Biden is making good on his promise to expunge the criminal records of people with small-possession convictions and ultimately usher in the much-anticipated federal legalization of marijuana. Here are some of the reasons why this landmark move is significant:
- Through an executive order, the president issued a “complete and unconditional” pardon for people who committed a federal offense of simple possession of marijuana and restored their full political and civil rights. A White House official said that more than 6,500 Americans convicted of federal marijuana possession would be pardoned.
- In the statement, the president called on the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to examine marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, the classification reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse, including heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. The president also called on governors to consider following his lead by dismissing state violations. To date, 19 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have legalized adult use of marijuana, while 38 states, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands regulate marijuana for medical use.
- Cannabis, the plant from which hemp and marijuana are derived, was legal in the US until the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, a policy that ultimately emboldened law enforcement to criminally charge large numbers of people of color for possession. According to the nonprofit Drug Policy, over 1 million judgments were made in 2020 for drug law violations, with personal possession of marijuana making up the vast majority of judgments. This reversal in policy may be a small pivot toward the future, but it is a long overdue reconciliation for the so-called War on Drugs.
- Hemp, from the same plant species as marijuana, yields less than 0.3% of the psychoactive ingredient THC, an arbitrary amount that varies from country to country. In 2018, a bipartisan Congress passed the Farm Bill, which removed the nonpsychoactive hemp plant from Schedule I drugs and paved the way for legal production within America and international export. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the value of hemp production totaled $824 million in 2021. Rescheduling and legalizing marijuana could be even more profitable than hemp, with recreational-use and medical-marijuana sales expected to total $33 billion by the end of 2022.
- Some in the cannabis industry speculate that this change is a sign that the legalization of marijuana will become a reality sooner than expected. After news broke of the executive order, stocks of publicly traded cannabis companies expectedly shot up, though as of Friday, Canopy Growth and Tilray stocks dropped over 13% and 11%, respectively. For the cannabis industry, federal legalization would mean the end of several roadblocks that have choked businesses in states that transitioned into adult-use markets, which meant more government red tape for businesses. Nationwide, legalization would finally allow a path forward for banks and investors to start working with licensed cannabis businesses without the risk of breaking federal laws and pave the way for cross-state commerce, a huge win for multi-state operators (MSO).