Both Biden and vice president Kamala Harris campaigned on decriminalizing marijuana use and offering clemency for simple marijuana possession. Biden made some progress on the promise in April with three cannabis pardons and reduced sentences for 75 offenders. However, the unconditional pardon announced on Oct 6 presents a much wider opportunity, which could also be a breakthrough in the long term for psychedelics.
the pardons have affected at least 6500 people
Biden made some progress on marijuana use reform but the pardons are a disappointment to advocates that want more weed reform now.
Despite its initial reception, the recent proposal by Joe Biden to pardon cannabis offenders may be a turning point in encouraging long-term change in drug policy.
Biden’s clemency for drug offenses marks a clear transition of an era. However, many view the pardons as a political move before midterms.
Far fewer offenders will be facing limitations on housing and education, and we can expect a drop in convictions for simple possession. In short, as more states legalize cannabis for recreational or medical use, the pardons have paved the road for legalization nationwide.
On Wednesday, VP Joe Biden announced the administration will be granting full pardons and removing cannabis from scheduling.
Federal Pardons-All nonviolent cannabis charges will be expunged immediately.
Full, unconditional pardons of simple marijuana possession
This order is a welcome announcement for those with marijuana-only criminal records.
While the executive order is limited, it has a significant impact. It’s hard to know the long term impacts of the order, but in the short term there will be some relief for those who have records.
Are the Pardons Good News for Psychedelics?
In a recent post, Shane Pennington, Counsel at Vicente Sederberg LLP, cuts through the widespread cynicism towards the pardons in media coverage. Pointing out Biden's move could be "a game changer," Pennington explains that Biden ordering a review of cannabis as a Schedule I drug "could revolutionize federal drug law." An opportunity exists because rescheduling cannabis could require the DEA and FDA to reinterpret why cannabis is Schedule I and such an interpretation could also apply to psychedelics.
“DEA could, for example, change its administrative interpretation of ‘potential for abuse’ in a way that somehow permits the agency to treat cannabis as having a potential for abuse lower than that of specific schedule I psychedelics.”
The DEA currently evaluates drugs based on abuse potential, accepted medical use, and a drug's safety and dependence profile. Looking at these findings, the DEA treats its evaluation as "mandatory." However, Pennington says this approach isn't applied uniformly and doesn't make sense if you look at it closely. Courts have also allowed the DEA to keep some drugs out of Schedule I by treating scheduling requirements as a "balancing test," which gives the DEA more authority to keep some drugs, even those with addiction or no medical use, out of Schedule I. Pennington suggested it is a possibility the DEA could return to this approach.
Let’s just be clear at this point that it’s a lot of speculation on how exactly Biden’s order will go and what the impact will be.
Psychedelic Pathways to Legalization
Although a broad reinterpretation of the Controlled Substance Act would allow for psychedelics, Matt Zorn, Co-author of On Drugs assured us that “Psychedelics are going through the FDA process while, by and large, cannabis has not.” Zorn also mentions how enforcement around marijuana has been discriminatory and that while psychedelics have their own set of problems, they don’t carry the same stigma as cannabis. When asked if psychedelics should be expected to follow the path of cannabis, he elaborated that “Although a broad reinterpretation of the Controlled Substance Act would allow for psychedelics, [he]assured us that ‘Psychedelics are going through the FDA process while, by and large, cannabis has not.’”
A reinterpretation of the Controlled Substances Act is exciting. We can potentially even use this as an access point for sweeping reform. Even if reform unfolds in a way that excludes psychedelics, Zorn’s observation that cannabis and psychedelics are currently on different pathways should offer solace to the psychedelic space.