President Biden’s historic announcement thathe will be pardoning all people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law from 1992 to 2021 and that his administration will review whether marijuana should still be classified as a “Schedule 1 drug,” meaning it has no medical use and high potential for abuse, like heroin or LSD, has provoked a widespread outpouring of support from top cannabis professionals and advocates. Although some did question the timing of this milestone move, being that it’s only a month before the all-too critical November midterms, which could result in Democrats either losing or retaining Congress, most were overjoyed, feeling this could pave the way for the ultimate brass ring—federal legalization of cannabis.
Said Troy Datcher, CEO of San Jose, California-based omnichannel cannabis platform The Parent Company: “This is a critical first step towards addressing the wrong of “The War on Drugs,” which over decades resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of communities of color in America. We encourage Governors across the country to follow President Biden’s lead and pardon those convicted of cannabis possession at the state level, which comprise the vast majority of those convicted of cannabis crimes.”
Yet, there is more to be done, noted Datcher, the only Black CEO of a publicly traded cannabis company. “Cannabis has the potential to be one of the most powerful economic engines in the U.S. over the next decade, but only if the punitive measures created by the current policy of federal cannabis prohibition are lifted,” he added.
George Mancheril, CEO and co-founder of cannabis lender Bespoke Financial, sounded a cautious note. “This is a huge step towards undoing the human cost and damage of the unsuccessful War on Drugs but we expect descheduling cannabis to take significantly longer,” he said. “While this is a big step in the right direction, with November elections so close and Democrats expected to lose control of Congress, we think legislative change will face significant political headwinds and likely require two years to be achieved.”
Kassia Graham, director of community and strategy at Cannaclusive, a consulting firm focused on promoting diversity and inclusion within the cannabis industry, hailed President Biden for his decision to grant pardons to those with low-level federal offenses, saying it is a precursor of the country moving toward ending cannabis prohibition. However, she also had a few misgivings. “Myself and others won’t be celebrating until we see the pardons and scheduling review in action,” said Graham. “And it’s important to note people will still be in jail for cannabis as the pardon doesn’t cover all offenders.”
The news elated Robert Beasley, CEO of cannabis multi-state operator Fluent. “President Biden has taken a huge step forward in protecting millions of Americans who need access to medicinal cannabis, and I applaud his decision to pardon all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession,” he said. “As we saw during Covid and most recently in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, cannabis has proven to be an everyday essential for many Americans, and no one should be criminalized for its usage. This historic move will change the lives of so many, and I am hopeful for the future of the industry.”
Mason Tvert, partner at Denver-based VS Strategies, a national cannabis policy and public affairs firm, predicted this move will have positive global reverberations as “other countries have taken their cues on marijuana policy from our federal government, and the head of our federal government is taking the position that people should not have been criminalized for using marijuana.” As for whether Biden’s decision was politically motivated, Tvert said it’s “irrelevant because it was the right thing to do. It has been a long time coming, and whether it was politically motivated or not, it is a welcome development. “
Reporting on the president’s decision, the New York Times noted that “the pardons will not apply to people convicted of selling or distributing marijuana…But the move will help remove obstacles for people trying to get a job, find housing, apply to college or get federal benefits.”