Senators Take Aim at Biden for not Keeping His Promises on Cannabis

biden cannabis

Six senators have come together once more to call out the Biden administration for their lack of progress in regards to the decriminalization of cannabis. In a letter sent to President Biden, the Department of Health and Human Services, and Attorney General Samuel Garland, the senators made two points abundantly clear. They want AG Garland to begin the independent, rulemaking process to have cannabis removed as a Schedule 1 substance from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) and they want President Joe Biden to immediately grant mass clemency to people with non-violent cannabis related federal convictions. 

In the most recent letter sent to the Biden administration, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Kirsten Gilibrant (D-NY) wrote: 

Our country’s cannabis policies must be completely overhauled, but you have the power to act now: you can and should issue a blanket pardon for all non-violent federal cannabis offenses, fulfilling your promise to the American people by transforming the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. We urge you to act swiftly on behalf of the countless Americans punished by the country’s senseless cannabis laws.

The “promise to the American people” the six Senators referred to was the February 2021 declaration made by the Biden administration after taking office. Entitled “Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America,” newly elected President Biden issued a multi-point plan with a multitude of “problems” Biden intended to solve, including to reform sentencing. Specifically for those convicted of nonviolent cannabis related offenses. Per the plan, which can still be viewed on Joe Biden’s website

Biden will work with Congress to reform federal sentencing and provide incentives to state and local systems to do the same. He will end, once and for all, the federal crack and powder cocaine disparity, decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions, and end all incarceration for drug use alone.

It would be another 14 months before Biden would begin to make good on his plan. In April of 2022, he commuted the sentences of 78 people with nonviolent drug convictions. With a prison system that currently houses over 40 thousand men and women for cannabis-related crime, 78 commuted sentences equals 0.002% of those currently incarcerated. Based on that pace, and those numbers, it would take a little over 500 years to for even one percent of those convicted to be released. 

The slow pace of progress seems to mimic itself in the administration’s response to the calls-to-action. In November of 2021, several Senators signed another letter urging Biden to issue a mass pardon on all prisoners convicted under non-violent cannabis offenses, whether they were currently or formerly incarcerated. As of this article, the Biden Administration has not responded to the November letter. 

Though it is predominantly Democrats who are leading the call, there have been several bi-partisan moves that have been made towards incremental change on the decriminalization of cannabis. In April of this year a group of Congressional lawmakers pushed a bill that would direct AG Garland to create a commission that would make recommendations on a more lenient regulatory system for cannabis that mimicked the models currently in place for alcohol and tobacco. 

It is anticipated that high level talks will continue to try to find a more bipartisan approach to cannabis, though, what that means for those who lie in wait currently incarcerated for a substance that many states now consider medicine, is another long wait. 

We will follow this story as it progresses. 

[image source: Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash]

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Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.

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