President Joe Biden has recently announced new changes to the current state of cannabis laws and regulations.
Biden’s announcement is being considered by some to be the beginning of the federal legalization of cannabis. The President has also moved to pardon simple possession charges on the federal level. However, activists recognize that these half-measures might not go far enough, especially for communities most severely impacted by restrictive cannabis laws.
Activists in our local community here in Louisville, Kentucky have been fighting for broader legalization for cannabis, as well as more pardons for cannabis charges.
Recent Major Changes to Cannabis Law
Big changes are on the way for cannabis laws in the United States. As more states have launched their own cannabis legalization frameworks, regulations on the federal level have lagged behind.
President Biden recently announced moves to change federal cannabis law. Biden’s plan has four key points.
The first is a pardon for federal offenses for simple possession. This only applies to prior charges that were pressed before the pardon. It also only applies to simple possession and not more complicated charges.
Biden also pushed state governors to do the same for state-level possession charges.
The President further tasked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review “how marijuana is scheduled.”
As of this writing, cannabis is a schedule 1 substance, which means it is prosecuted on the same level as heroin and more harshly than fentanyl. Activists and medical professionals say that cannabis being a schedule 1 drug is out of step with public polling and medical research.
This comes on the heels of other big moves from Biden like the recent infrastructure bill.
Federal Pardons, but not State
Activists have praised this as a first step, but there is also a push for more change. Knowing what to do when arrested in the digital age has gotten more complicated, and activists are working to ensure that cannabis legalization reaches areas most adversely impacted by cannabis law.
Activists argue that a full cannabis legalization would have to include both federal and state level pardons for people charged with cannabis-related offenses.
Biden did not announce any relief for people charged with state-level cannabis possession. This is a major flaw in his announcemen,t according to Kentucky cannabis activists.
Activists Push for Comprehensive Pot Pardons
Louisville activists are pushing for state-level pardons in addition to the federal pardons announced by Biden. They cite clear statistics showing cannabis laws disproportionately targeting people of color despite individuals using cannabis at similar rates regardless of race.
Activists have cited research showing that more than 90% of Kentuckians are in support of legalized cannabis. This mirrors polling from across the country, which shows that the majority of Americans have a favorable view of weed and support the drug’s legalization.
Activists note that the most possession charges are on state level. Federal charges for simple possession are fairly rare as federal prosecutors often pursue much more complicated crimes and charges. In Kentucky alone, about 91% of charges are simple possession.
Local Kentucky cannabis activists say that it’s time to reverse the historic wrongs of the war on drugs.
The Problem with the War on Drugs
The same activists state that the war on drugs has largely failed to reduce drug use nationwide and has only served to further incarcerate People of Color.
Research shows that People of Color are 4x more likely to be charged for weed possession and up to 10x more likely to be charged in states like Kentucky than their white weed-loving counterparts.
With cannabis legalization beginning to unfold on the federal level, activists are hoping to put a stopper in the discrimation caused by the war on drugs.
What Comes Next for Weed Law
Biden’s comments were open-ended and lacked specifics. Activists are hoping that this is only the beginning of a clearer and detailed program of federal weed legalization.
The 2018 farm bill has already made certain hemp extracts legal on the federal level. This includes CBD which is not psychoactive and cannot intoxicate individuals or get them high as well as Delta 8 THC which does have the potential to have a similar effect is THC, but with a much more mild experience.
Medical researchers are also exploring the benefits of cannabis. There’s evidence to suggest that the rise in cannabis legalization has also been associated with a decrease in opioid misuse. Cannabis could prove to be a much safer alternative to dangerous drugs used for pain relief and other conditions.
Activists are also hoping that full Federal legalization of cannabis is also met with wider pardons. Simple possession accounts for only some of the people currently charged with a cannabis-related crime.
The next few years are going to be interesting times when it comes to cannabis legalization.