Veep Touts Weed Reform at White House Event

At a recent White House event, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a sharp critique of the current federal classification of marijuana, deeming it “absurd” for pot to be banned in light of evolving societal norms and medical research.

This strong statement by Harris, made during a roundtable discussion that she moderated on cannabis policy, underscores the growing momentum for reform within the Biden administration.

Harris’s roundtable confab, held March 15, included several celebrities and lawmakers, notably Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) and Grammy-nominated rapper Fat Joe. The vice president’s aggressively pro-reform stance marks a significant moment in the continuing debate over cannabis legalization.

“Nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed,” Harris stated during the meeting. “What we need to do is recognize that far too many people have been sent to jail for simple marijuana possession. The impact is such that, in particular, Black Americans and Latinos are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and the disparity is even larger when you talk about the subset of Black men and Latino men. This is an issue that must be addressed.”

With anticipation mounting for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to release its decision regarding the rescheduling of marijuana, Harris’s comments signal a willingness at the upper reaches of government to challenge entrenched policies that have long been criticized as outdated and ineffective.

At the heart of the issue is the classification of marijuana as a “Schedule I” prohibited narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This classification, which denotes a lack of acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse, has been widely contested amid mounting evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

Advocates remain optimistic that the DEA will soon conclude its review of cannabis scheduling, following a recent recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reclassify pot from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA.

Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

As you can see from the above chart, Schedule I includes heroin; Schedule III includes codeine mixtures (e.g., Tylenol with codeine). The DEA isn’t required to follow the HHS recommendation, but in the 50-year context of the failed War on Drugs, rescheduling pot would represent a legal earthquake.

The White House event last week served as a platform for the Biden administration to showcase its commitment to reforming federal marijuana policies, a stance reiterated by President Biden himself during his recent State of the Union address. With approximately 70% of Americans supporting marijuana legalization, the administration recognizes the political significance of aligning with public opinion, particularly among younger voters who overwhelmingly favor legalization.

Biden’s executive orders in October 2022, which pardoned individuals with nonviolent federal marijuana offenses and initiated a review of marijuana’s classification, laid the groundwork for potential reform. The subsequent recommendation by the HHS to reclassify marijuana to a less restrictive category has further fueled expectations for change.

However, the ultimate decision rests with the Department of Justice (DOJ), leaving the nation in a state of anticipation as stakeholders await the outcome of this deliberative process. In the meantime, Biden’s expansion of the pardon declaration in December, offering relief to tens of thousands more individuals, demonstrates a recognition of the need for equitable justice in addressing the impact of past marijuana convictions.

Beyond the legal and political dimensions, Harris’s critique reflects broader societal shifts in attitudes toward cannabis. As states continue to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use, the federal government faces increasing pressure to reconcile conflicting laws and policies.

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This article previously appeared on Investing Daily.