Stakeholders throughout the cannabis industry speculated last week that a “big announcement” from the White House on rescheduling could surface.
The presumptions came after attorney Adrian Snead, partner at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, posted last Tuesday, Feb. 6, on LinkedIn that a “highly placed Administration source” confirmed that an announcement regarding cannabis was coming “likely this week.” Snead said he suspected the announcement would be a rescheduling decision from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but “it could be something more drastic.”
Snead’s comments came on the heels of 12 U.S. senators penning a Jan. 29 letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram and Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging cannabis to be descheduled, instead of rescheduled, and demanding transparency in the DEA’s review process.
But no big announcement on cannabis rescheduling from the White House came last week. Instead, Vice President Kamala Harris released a 60-second campaign video late Friday afternoon on social media that touted, in part, the White House’s position on cannabis policy.
“In 2020, young voters turned out in record numbers,” Harris said. “And, as a result, President Biden and I … we changed federal marijuana policy, because nobody should have to go to jail just for smoking weed. Elections matter and we have more work to do.”
In 2020, young voters turned out in record numbers to make a difference.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 9, 2024
Harris went on to ask viewers to visit JoeBiden.com and sign up to be part of the Biden-Harris 2024 presidential campaign.
This video caused a stir among those connected to the cannabis industry for myriad reasons.
First, while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended a Schedule III reclassification, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act as the DEA continues its review of that recommendation. While President Joe Biden directed the HHS to initiate an administrative review of how cannabis is scheduled, federal policy has yet to officially change.
Second, while Biden issued a proclamation on granting pardons to individuals who “may continue to experience the unnecessary collateral consequences of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana,” zero prisoners have actually been released from federal incarceration as a result of these pardons, according to reform advocate and founder of Mission [Green] Weldon Angelos.
Angelos served 13 years of his 55-year sentence in prison for selling $900 worth of cannabis in a sting operation in the early 2000s. He has become a symbol for justice reform since his 2016 release and 2020 pardon from former President Donald Trump. Mission [Green]’s sole purpose is to end incarceration for cannabis.
Angelos responded to Harris’ video on Friday, saying that the Biden administration hasn’t changed “a single marijuana policy yet” and also has yet to release “a single marijuana offender from prison.”
“Pardoning misdemeanors doesn’t actually do anything,” Angelos wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Those convictions do not carry collateral consequences or civil disabilities. Pardon people with federal marijuana felonies and release people incarcerated for marijuana offenses, and then you can take credit for doing something good.”
While the Biden administration has offered a change in “opinion,” that is not the same as changing actual policy on cannabis, he wrote.
Piggybacking on these comments, Kyle Kazan, Chairman and CEO of California-based Glass House Brands, called Harris a liar.
“Federal marijuana laws are exactly the same as they were in 2020 and worse, not one cannabis prisoner has been released,” Kazan posted on X. “To boot, many have been imprisoned since [Biden] and you took office. Shame on you!!!”
Meanwhile, others took issue with a legalization map in Harris’ campaign video, which incorrectly labeled states with medical cannabis-only legalization as having adult-use cannabis legalization, and vice versa for the adult-use states as being medical-only states.
Moreover, others took issue with Harris’ wording that “nobody should have to go to jail just for smoking weed,” questioning the White House’s position on criminalizing people who sell or grow the plant.
As a record-high 70% of Americans supported legalizing cannabis in 2023, according to Gallup pollsters, this video wasn’t the White House’s first attempt to capitalize on the issue’s popularity along the still-young 2024 campaign trail. Last month, Biden said he kept his promise on cannabis reform during a stop in South Carolina.
Despite pushback on what the current administration has actually accomplished on cannabis policy, reform has experienced unprecedented momentum in the past three years, Julie A. Werner-Simon, a former federal prosecutor, legal analyst and law professor, wrote in a recent Cannabis Business Times article.
This momentum has included federal access to research, Biden’s rescheduling push, and 10 states that have legalized adult-use cannabis since the beginning of 2021.
“More progress has happened on American cannabis legalization in the past three years than in the fifty before,” Werner-Simon wrote. “From May 1971, when President Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970 became effective …to early 2021 (when the Biden administration starting approving applications to conduct cannabis research), the federal government was, for the most part, consistently anti-cannabis.”