While many diehard cannabis advocates are calling for the plant to be legalized in the United States in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, President-elect Joe Biden isn’t quite ready to take that leap. Instead, he wants to focus on federally decriminalizing the herb, expanding research opportunities and making it available for medicinal purposes. Interestingly, his pick for health secretary almost solidifies that the nation is indeed headed down such a progressive path.
Biden announced this week that he wants California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, one of his jobs would be to work with a team of health officials to combat the pandemic. The other would be to oversee the orders necessary to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.
Becerra, who was Biden’s second choice after Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo turned down the job, is a feather in the cap of cannabis advocates. Not only does he have a solid record on legal cannabis, but he’ll lead the charge of the rescheduling process if Biden makes good on his promise.
Biden’s campaign issued a directive months ago showing exactly what his administration would be willing to do, if elected, to lessen federal cannabis restrictions. “Democrats will decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level,” the document stated.
Biden wants to put the cannabis plant in a Schedule II listing instead of its current Schedule I. It’s a move that says marijuana “has accepted medical uses,” but a high rate of abuse, so it requires supervision. That process would begin with a health review conducted by Becerra and the HHS.
From there, Becerra and crew would file a petition to reschedule cannabis with the U.S. Attorney General. At the time this article was written, Alabama Senator Doug Jones was said to be the leading contender to oversee the Justice Department. Remember, whoever lands this gig will be selected by Biden because of an alignment of political views and agenda. And Jones is pro-pot. He told reporters in 2019 that the time has come to legalize marijuana. “I think it is about time that we moved it off the controlled states list,” he said. “This is really a states right issue these days.”
The HHS and the Justice Department would then work together to establish a list of pros and cons for downgrading the Schedule I listing of marijuana to a Schedule II. If the agencies find the review warrants this action, the attorney general would then initiate the rule-making proceedings to make it happen. Since this request will be made by Biden and not an outside party, we imagine that the rescheduling recommendations will go off without a hitch. After all, the White House would have final say on whether to go full speed ahead with the rescheduling rule.
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Although Biden has made rescheduling marijuana part of his mission, we still don’t have any indication if it will be done in his first 100 days or whether it will be something that takes a backseat until the nation has a grip on COVID. Considering that the House Of Representatives just approved a bill (one that has a companion measure sponsored by Vice President Elect Kamala Harris in the Senate) to legalize marijuana at the federal level, the most likely scenario is that Biden will pick up the issue sooner rather than later.
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One thing is certain, the upcoming administration is set up to make some drastic changes with respect to the cannabis plant. Perhaps then Congress will find the common sense to take larger steps to end prohibition altogether.