Biden Administration Announces Significant Change in Federal Marijuana Policy

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a proposal to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The move is aimed at reducing federal restrictions on weed and marks a significant departure from the approach of prior administrations.


The reclassification is part of a broader effort to address the nation’s flawed approach to marijuana. The administration’s proposal includes pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession and urging governors to do the same for state offenses.

The Biden administration has been signaling that it would move to reschedule the drug from Schedule I — a strict classification including drugs like heroin — to the less-stringent Schedule III, which would for the first time acknowledge the drug’s medical benefits at the federal level. The Drug Enforcement Administration submitted a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on Thursday afternoon, triggering a 60-day comment period that will allow members of the public to submit remarks regarding the rescheduling proposal before it is finalized.

Biden first directed federal agencies to review how marijuana is scheduled in October 2022, weeks before that year’s midterm elections. The process was led by the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Look folks, no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period,” Biden said in Thursday’s video, his third time speaking extensively on the topic since his directive two years ago.

The White House highlighted the benefits for public health and safety. A senior official said the pardon would “help relieve those collateral consequences” of marijuana convictions that limit opportunities for housing, employment, and education. The administration estimates that over 6,500 Americans with federal convictions for simple possession and many more could benefit.


Members of Team Biden have taken shots at former President Donald Trump over his inaction on the marijuana issue.

"It’s simple, Joe Biden smokes sleepy Don on delivering for the American people. After four years of all talk, all failure from Donald Trump, Joe Biden is keeping his promise on marijuana policy, moving America forward, and making America safer," Biden campaign spokesman James Singer told Fox News Digital following the announcement.

"Donald Trump was wrong on marijuana policy and made America less safe, hurting young people and communities of color. Voters can’t afford the broken promises and dangerous failures of a second Trump term," he added.

Trump's position on marijuana remained somewhat ambiguous during his presidency. He previously expressed the view that marijuana policy should be determined at the state level, but has also spoken out against related ballot initiatives, citing worries it could boost Democrats.

He did, however, sign the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp. The substance had been prohibited for decades, and his administration allocated resources specifically to enact the reforms in the bill.

In states where marijuana is already legal, some have expressed optimism about the move and the potential economic benefits it could bring. Neil Juneja, a cannabis attorney in Washington state, pointed out that sellers could reap significant tax benefits because there will be “deductions that are allowing for things such as putting up a billboard, doing marketing, hiring employees that other businesses have.”


“If there are not new tax codes that are put into place, we could see a 20% to 30% drop theoretically,” he said.

However, others, like Reason Magazine’s Jacob Sullum, do not believe rescheduling marijuana will have as much of an impact as the Biden administration claims.

"Look, folks," Biden says in the video, "no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana. Period. Far too many lives have been upended because of [our] failed approach to marijuana, and I'm committed to righting those wrongs." Yet rescheduling marijuana will not decriminalize marijuana use, even for medical purposes. It will not legalize state-licensed marijuana businesses or resolve the growing conflict between federal prohibition and state laws that authorize those businesses. It will not stop the war on weed or do much to ameliorate the injustice it inflicts.

As Sullum indicated, reclassifying the plant would not equate to full legalization. Nevertheless, it does represent a substantial shift in federal marijuana policy. It aligns with public opinion, with polls indicating widespread support for legalizing marijuana.

To sum it up, President Biden’s proposal to reclassify marijuana while issuing pardons for federal offenses could go toward shaping the policy landscape surrounding use of the plant. It could also motivate state governments to reassess their marijuana policies as it has in Massachusetts.



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