U.S. cannabis policy has been pushed forward after President Joe Biden pardoned Americans federally convicted of possessing small amounts of the drug.
Biden also urged governors to do the same on state crimes and called for a review of the drug. Federal law currently classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it "currently has no accepted medical status and a high potential for abuse."
Penalized too severely
Marijuana is labeled the same in law as heroin and LSD and is even more highly classified as fentanyl and methamphetamine, which are currently responsible for thousands of addiction and overdose deaths. “It doesn't make any sense,” Biden said Thursday, instructing his attorney general and health secretary to oversee a review.
“Too many lives have been turned upside down because of our failed approach to marijuana. It is time we correct these mistakes.” The news came as a surprise to many, but it has set cannabis stocks on fire. Proponents say the move is a first, albeit overdue, step to lift a $33 billion (£30 billion) industry out of the shadows and provide aid to those affected by a "war on drugs" who started in the XNUMXs.
"It's a welcome starter for conversation," said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. “We have been waiting for federal action on reform, so we welcome the opportunity to have a much broader conversation about reform.”
As the White House itself has pointed out, Biden's grace — for "simple possession" — is limited. Only about 6.500 people with federal convictions and a few residents of the District of Columbia (DC) qualify for the exemption.
That's because, although nearly 1965 million Americans have been arrested for cannabis-related offenses since 29, no one is currently in federal prison for possession alone. In addition, most possession convictions are at the state and local levels, and presidential pardons only apply to federal charges.
Remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act
However, Frederique and related organizations want to take it a step further by removing cannabis from the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and regulating it in the same way as alcohol or tobacco.
Because she says: people can still be prosecuted, cannabis research still faces obstacles, many people do not have access to medical cannabis programs, people are still fired for using cannabis, banks are hesitant to provide loans to entrepreneurs in the industry and entrepreneurs and companies sometimes do not have access to financing.
Legalization and reclassification of cannabis
If the review initiated by Biden eventually calls for cannabis reclassification, the federal government will review the reforms introduced in several US states already underway, catching up. Currently, 37 states and DC have legalized medical cannabis, while 19 states have approved the drug for recreational use. That represents over 40% of the US population.
Voters in five more states — Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota — will vote next month on whether or not to allow recreational cannabis use, with at least four more referendums expected in 2023 and 2024.
It is a reflection of how the political view of cannabis reform has changed in a short space of time. A Gallup poll last year found that a record 68% of Americans now support legalizing the drug.
Democrats and independents are in favor of easing restrictions on cannabis use. About half of Republicans are also on board, the poll shows.
“Repealing the federal ban on marijuana is not just good policy that will strengthen its position. It's good politics too," Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) advocacy group, told the BBC.
Source: BBC.com (EN)