In the “day of history and hope” that President Biden articulated in his inaugural speech, many in the cannabis industry hoped his new administration would absorb the words from our American treasure, Amanda Gorman, who told us “what ‘just is’ isn’t always justice.”
Nothing makes the young poet laureate’s point better than the federal government’s cannabis policy, itself a monument to injustice.
We know that President Biden’s immediate focus needs to be on the nation’s crisis agenda: turning back the pandemic, restoring our economy and repelling the attacks on our democracy. We only expect that once the administration gains the upper hand in the American renewal, it can find the time and create a space to unwind the drug war, starting with a rethinking of national cannabis policy.
Compared with the other issues that it confronts, this should be an easy challenge. The president, after all, would be aligning himself with the vast majority of the American public. According to a post-election Gallup Poll, a full 68% of Americans favor the expanded legalization of cannabis. Red state, blue state, purple state — it doesn’t matter. Voters in South Dakota and Montana were among four states, along with Arizona and New Jersey, that on Nov. 3 fully legalized cannabis for adult use. The number of states legal for adult use has climbed to 15, plus the District of Columbia. All but six states, meanwhile, have approved medicinal use of cannabis.
For Biden, this could be his Nixon-to-China moment.
The former senator from Delaware legislatively helped construct America’s incarceration state that continues to lock up hundreds of thousands of people on cannabis-related charges, a number that remains disproportionately comprised of Blacks and Hispanics. As president, he can right that wrong. He can start by administratively removing marijuana entirely from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, under which the substance is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug that is more dangerous than methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Biden wisely, in his winning presidential campaign, admitted that “I haven’t always been right” on the issue of cannabis. As president, he can move beyond that admission to embrace a position of uninhibited cannabis reform.
He’s talked about decriminalization — good. Expungement of criminal records for cannabis use and possession — terrific. Support for the use of medical marijuana — of course.
These reforms are all necessary and welcome. But they represent only a starting point, toward the establishment of a rational cannabis policy.
First and foremost, the government needs to take cannabis off the list of controlled substances, so scientists can research it, so the government can regulate and tax it, so entrepreneurs can gain access to the country’s banking system.
If President Biden needs cannabis policy advice, he need look no further than his vice president. Kamala Harris, after years of opposition to cannabis as San Francisco district attorney and as California attorney general, co-sponsored a bill as a U.S. senator in 2018 to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.
“Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do and it’s the right thing to do,” she tweeted.
We agree, and, apparently, so does Xavier Becerra, Biden’s selection for secretary of Health and Human Services. Becerra, when he was California’s attorney general, signed on to a statement with 33 other top cops in their states that endorsed a bill in Congress to allow cannabis entrepreneurs access to the federal banking system so that they could get loans and accept credit cards from their customers. Easier for the IRS to track, too.
“The continued exclusion of the licensed cannabis industry from the federal banking system is untenable — and unwise,” Becerra said in a news release last year.
Biden also can turn to Vanita Gupta, his pick to be associate attorney general, and Kristen Clarke, his nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Both have advocated for the full legalization of cannabis.
We are confident that President Biden and his experienced and competent team can come to the right decision on cannabis, to achieve justice for the wrongly and harshly punished, and to expand the market potential of what already is a $67 billion industry.
We can build back a better national cannabis policy, if only, in the words of Amanda Gorman, “we’re brave enough to see it.”
Dale Sky Jones is chancellor of Oaksterdam University, the first cannabis institution educating more than 50,000 people from over 40 countries.
Image: Sam Doucette