Saying “it makes no sense,” President Joe Biden on Thursday pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and instructed his administration to consider whether cannabis should get a new drug classification.
The president’s announcement — four weeks ahead of the mid-term elections — could eventually make it easier for marijuana companies to conduct business in Florida and throughout the country.
Biden called on authorities to look at removing marijuana from a federal list of dangerous “Schedule 1” drugs that includes drugs such as heroin and LSD. Florida law also classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
Biden’s pardons will affect about 6,500 people nationwide who were convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law from 1992 to 2021, according to The New York Times.
The president also urged governors to take similar steps to clear people convicted of state crimes involving simple possession of pot.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden said in a statement issued by the White House.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he would consider such pardons.
Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients, and the state has more than 750,000 patients deemed eligible for the treatment.
The state’s largest medical-marijuana operator, Trulieve, is helping to bankroll a proposal for the 2024 ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana use for adults over age 21.
Biden pledged pardons for simple marijuana-possession crimes as he campaigned for president more than two years ago.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a former medical-marijuana lobbyist, called Biden’s actions “an extraordinary step forward in the name of justice for the victims of unjust sentencing whose lives have been upended or even destroyed.”
Fried, who lost a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in August to Charlie Crist, said she intends to call on DeSantis to address the issue at the state’s next clemency board meeting. The board is made up of the governor and state Cabinet.
Marijuana advocates for years also have pushed for cannabis to be removed from the list of Schedule 1 drugs.
“The president is doing the right thing ordering a review of the classification of marijuana, and I am pleased to see that this will be an expedited process,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “Today is a victory, and we owe you our gratitude for responding to our calls for justice, President Biden.”
But changing the classification at the federal level — a process that could take years — would not have any immediate impact on Florida because of the state classification law.
The Republican-controlled Legislature has adopted a hard-line approach to marijuana. Lawmakers grudgingly rolled out the state’s medical-marijuana program to comply with the 2016 constitutional amendment. As an example, they banned smokable marijuana until pushed by DeSantis to reverse course after he took office in 2019.
Legislative leaders also periodically have toyed with the idea of imposing caps on the level of euphoria-inducing THC in smokable medical marijuana.
Even so, industry insiders on Thursday were cautiously optimistic, noting that cannabis company stocks, which are traded on the Canadian stock exchange, jumped 30 to 40 percent after Biden’s announcement.
“Anything’s helpful for the cannabis industry right now. I think it’s an important step forward,” John Lockwood, an attorney who represents medical-marijuana operators, told The News Service of Florida. “But there’s still a long way to go. The biggest thing is banking reforms and letting these companies do business like any other regulated business, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”
Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, many banks will not handle marijuana operators’ money. The companies also cannot take advantage of federal income tax breaks. A reclassification of marijuana could change that.
Biden on Thursday directed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland “to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” The president’s statement pointed out that marijuana’s Schedule 1 status ranks “even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine — the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic.”
Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers praised Biden’s “monumental actions to address long-overdue criminal justice and federal cannabis policy reforms.”
“This is truly a life-changing day for thousands of individuals who have had their livelihoods and opportunities negatively impacted over simple cannabis possession charges,” Rivers said in a statement.
Biden’s move “is a recognition of the general sentiment nationally that seems to be in favor of legalization of marijuana or at least decriminalization of low-level marijuana offenses,” attorney Jim McKee, who also specializes in medical-marijuana law, said in an interview.
But some people questioned whether Biden’s action was a political move timed to generate enthusiasm among Democratic voters in the lead-up to next month’s elections.
“I think this is a big deal only insomuch as the president is trying to get his supporters to vote for Democratic candidates in November. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am,” Tallahassee attorney Daniel Russell, who represents Fried in a lawsuit against the Biden administration challenging federal prohibitions against marijuana users buying guns, told the News Service.
The Justice Department has asked U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing, in part, that marijuana users “pose a danger comparable to, if not greater than, other groups that have historically been disarmed,” such as mentally ill people.
Winsor will hold a hearing in the lawsuit next week.
“Having been fighting the Department of Justice on this issue for six months, reading pleadings filed as of last week basically treating these medical patients like crack dealers, I’m delighted to see the president move on this issue,” Russell, a lawyer with the Dean Mead firm, said.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
This is just the first step. I sure hope President Biden does the same for those convicted of other drug related “crimes.” It’s not someone’s fault they’re addicted to heroin or whatever other drug. Next would be pardoning convicted criminals of other “crimes.” Lastly, eliminate bail and reduce the sentences of the majority of those in jail. Jail is no place for a “criminal.” They need help not bars.
The dude says
All the olds here in Palm Coast are gonna be bent about this… they believe the movie “reefer madness” is a documentary, and that smoking the weed leads to boogie dancing and intermingling of the races.
They’ll storm in here, angry and loud and yell things about “gateway drug” and such (as they swill their gin or Chardonnay down in between rants).
I wonder if they realize we already have more weed shops in Palm Coast than we do Starbucks?
Dude: As usual, your bigotry against old folks is always predictable. FYI, this senior has tried all of the above with the exception of heroin. Got nothing against pot, mushrooms, cactus, LSD or bourbon, except bourbon is more dangerous than the aforementioned intoxicants though it is legal.
This “old” thinks it’s about time to let this people out of prison, and make marijuana legal. I think it would be perfectly fine to grow a plant in my yard, and it should be none of the government’s business. No, I won’t rant as you are sure we will. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…
FB Native says
OK, great. Now decriminalize it.
Robert Joseph Fortier says
Right…Funny though how there seems to be no problem with alcohol, which is much more dangerous.
I don’t see how I can get arrested for smoking an herb that I might grow in my own home. Time to move on and stop ruining people’s lives who partake.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
Perhaps he is garnering the vote.
Speaking of voting, now is the time to consider the issues and select your candidates.
G A says
It’s about time
America First 81 says
Appeasement Biden and the DemonKKLrats will do anything to Keep POWER during the 2022 Elections! Now when America’s Police Stop a vehicle for a DUI check, they also have to do ‘an instant Drug Test’ to learn if the vehicle operator is ‘STONED ON GRASS’! Forgiving $10,000 Student Loans is another SCAM by Comrade Biden to GAIN Votes for the 2022 Election! Come On Man, This Is No Joke!
Americans, finally says
How confused do you have to be that you think taking care of citizens is a scam. Don’t you realize you’re the one that need to come on. Don’t you realize that the majority of black people usually vote for Democrats? Do you just not know any black people or what?
America First 81: Oh go smoke a joint. You’ll feel better.
I was never a proponent of marijuana use, nor have I ever tried it myself other than being at some music concerts back in the day where the wafting smoke from many in the audience who were smoking joints was so thick it was difficult at times to see the musicians on stage. Over the course of decades, more and more intoxicated drivers are being found under the combined influence of alcohol and marijuana, or just marijuana alone (as well as other drugs). So I will never understand why any state or the feds would want to do something that would only increase the probability of having more intoxicated drivers on our roads and highways. Yes, there definitely has been documented proof that marijuana has been shown to have medical benefits for many people, and that is wonderful. But to completely decriminalize marijuana above and beyone limited medical use while we continue to have a big problem with DUIs in America seems like a boneheaded decision, at least to me. I believe it will only make our roadways more unsafe because of the potential of even more idiots under the influence getting behind the wheel.