After last year’s election, it seemed like a new era of cannabis policy was right around the corner. But after a few months of cannabis-saturated news, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only thing that was changing was a new president. Well, a lot has happened, but the big picture on the issue remains the same. In fact, this administration is shaping up to be even worse for cannabis reform than the one before it.

This year, the nation’s capital is poised to re-legalize marijuana, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is about to pass the Marijuana Justice Act. That’s big news, but it’s not all that’s happening for cannabis advocates. President Barack Obama’s administration has also moved to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. That means that federal law enforcement agencies can no longer go after people who use or sell pot.

Source: Shutterstock word-image-8974 On the 20th. In January, Joseph Biden, Jr. becomes the 46th President of the United States. President of the United States. The Biden administration will inherit a series of domestic problems, none more pressing than a new outbreak of the coronavirus. Of the 24 million people infected with Covid in the United States, 398,000 have died. As many as 7.7 million people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and millions of students are falling behind with their studies as schools go virtual. The new White House and Congress are tasked with responding to the Covid crisis as quickly and effectively as possible, and this task is likely to consume most of the political capital in the coming months. Now that the White House and Congress are under Democratic control, cannabis advocates hope that federal legalization is within reach. Proponents of racial equality and criminal justice reform hope that the legalization of cannabis will do something about the damage caused by the criminalization of marijuana. But given the pressure from Covid and the highly polarized social climate, proponents of legal weed should supplement their optimism with a healthy dose of caution and patience.

The new White House should take a moderate approach to cannabis reform

Here’s the good news: Democrats overwhelmingly agree that marijuana prohibition is ineffective. Yet the players in the White House with the most influence over cannabis legalization are at worst silent on the issue of smoking weed, at best painfully reticent. Biden’s team has a much better chance of breaking into the cannabis world than the recreational and medical marijuana world. The latest version of the Farm Bill functionally legalized industrial hemp, but the new administration could go further. During his campaign, Biden’s team announced a climate change effort that includes paying farmers to grow carbon-destroying crops, of which industrial hemp is ideally suited for this purpose.  Although Biden did not mention cannabis by name, this non-psychoactive plant will likely be central to the USDA’s response to global warming. Biden’s history with recreational and medical marijuana sends a much more conservative message. At the height of the drug war in the late 1980s, Biden criticized President H.W. Bush’s hardline approach and said he was not tough, decisive and resourceful enough to deal with the current crisis. Biden argued that Bush’s plan does not provide enough police officers to apprehend violent criminals, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough jail cells to lock them up for long periods of time. A few years later, Biden escalated the war on drugs to his liking with the Senate version of the 1994 crime bill, a law that exponentially increased the prison population. The consequences of the Crime Act have been and continue to be disproportionately hard on black families and communities.

Biden’s evolution regarding cannabis

Biden’s views have changed recently, but not as drastically as some cannabis advocates and criminal justice reformers had hoped. Despite the overwhelming popularity of full legalization among the American public, Biden takes a much more moderate stance, citing the lack of research on the public health effects of cannabis as a major obstacle. Mr. Biden’s platform includes the decriminalization of cannabis and the possibility of removing cannabis-related convictions. However, there is no promise that cannabis will be legalized across the country. Biden chose Judge Merrick Garland, whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected by President Obama, as attorney general. Garland’s views on cannabis remain largely secret, but he is likely to have more progressive views than Trump’s anti-cannabis attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr. It’s likely that Garland, as attorney general, will be guided by the state’s cannabis laws. Janet Woodcock will serve as acting FDA commissioner after Biden takes office. Woodcock is currently director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation. As such, in 2018 it supported the FDA’s rejection of the prohibition group’s request to ban the marketing of medical cannabis products. Woodcock said the request is not necessary to protect public health. If the president, the attorney general, and the commissioner of the FDA don’t take the lead on cannabis legalization, it’s much more likely that a Democrat-led Congress will push for cannabis legalization and social equality at the federal level.

Congressional leaders strongly support cannabis legalization

In a statement following the House of Representatives’ approval of the MORE Act, a bill that legalizes cannabis and allows for the expungement of cannabis-related convictions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said With the passage of the bipartisan MORE Act today, the House of Representatives is proud to have passed one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history.  This important step helps end the devastating injustice of criminalizing marijuana, which has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color, and reflects the overwhelming will of the American people. Pelosi’s leadership in passing the MORE Act last legislative session is a sign of future movement toward full and fair cannabis legalization in the House of Representatives.

Senate Majority Leader promises to take action

Chuck Schumer will be the Senate Majority Leader, and if he keeps his word, that means cannabis legalization will be a priority. In an interview with Green Enterprise, Schumer vowed to push cannabis legalization through a Senate vote. If I become majority leader, I will put it on the ballot and it will probably happen, Schumer told Green Enterprise, referring to the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act he first introduced in 2018. In a statement on the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, Schumer outlined his position on cannabis legalization: It’s time to decriminalize marijuana. The new Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is designed to give states the freedom to be the laboratories they need to be and enable Americans – especially female and minority business owners and those convicted of possessing marijuana for personal use – to thrive in today’s economy. This bill is exactly what we need to do, and I hope that the balanced approach it takes can find bipartisan support in Congress and across the country. Cannabis legalization, embraced by a growing number of Republicans, could be one of the easiest issues for both parties to resolve for the Biden administration and the newly elected Congress.

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