President Joe Biden is rallying young people ahead of next month’s elections, in part by highlighting his recent move to pardon Americans who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses.
During a pre-midterm speech on Tuesday, the president touted progress on a number of policy issues since he took office and made the case to young voters that the administration would be better positioned to build on that momentum by expanding the Democratic majority in Congress.
“I’m keeping my promise that no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said, eliciting applause from the audience. “You should not be in jail.”
The White House has been tracking polling on the president’s popular pardon proclamation and directive for an administrative review of cannabis scheduling, and those surveys have consistently shown that young adults are strongly in favor of the action.
Now Biden is leaning into the issue with just weeks until the midterm election, which has Democrats on edge as the threat of losing their majority in either chamber of Congress looms.
Biden campaigned on a number of cannabis reform promises, including rescheduling the plant, legalizing medical marijuana, expunging prior cannabis convictions and letting states set their own marijuana policies without federal intervention.
The scheduling directive is a step toward several of those goals, setting the stage for removing cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and potentially legalizing medical marijuana down the road, even if the president does not directly control what recommendations ultimately come down from the Justice Department and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Also, the pardon action is limited in scope, affecting just about 6,500 people who’ve committed the federal possession offense, as well as those who’ve violated the law in Washington, D.C. Advocates are pushing for expanded relief for groups who weren’t eligible for the clemency, such as immigrants and those who’ve been convicted under federal law for selling cannabis.
In any case, it’s notable that Biden took the opportunity to promote the cannabis action during a speech that largely focused on reproductive rights. He also touted his moves on student loan relief, another issue that appeals to young voters.
Vice President Kamala Harris also said last week that voters should elect lawmakers who support marijuana reform so that Congress can enact a “uniform approach” to the issue in light of the president’s cannabis pardons.
Several Cabinet officials have cheered Biden’s action and resolved to fulfill their parts of the pardon and scheduling review process.
The White House drug czar recently said that it’s key to ensure that any decision that’s made as part the federal scientific review “filters into criminal justice as well.” And when it comes to the science of cannabis, he said that there are “clearly” therapeutic benefits.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said that officials will be working diligently to ensure that people who received a pardon for federal marijuana offenses under the presidential proclamation are not impeded from future job opportunities.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has also talked about the president’s directive to agencies to conduct an administrative review of cannabis’s scheduling status. The health secretary said officials will “work as quickly as we can” to complete the analysis.
DOJ, for its part, “will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense,” a department spokesperson said following Biden’s announcement.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, said that he appreciates the “significant” step that the president has taken, but there’s “more that we can do” to address the drug war and he’s “very hopeful” that additional reform can be enacted before the end of this Congress.
He reiterated that point in an interview published on Monday, adding that he thinks lawmakers have a “good shot” at enacting a package of increment marijuana proposals during the lame duck session after the midterms.