11 October 2022 |

The cannabis industry reacts to the President’s recent announcement

By Kaitlin Domangue

The dust has settled and the initial excitement & shock of President Biden’s surprise announcement is gone. 

Reality is setting in and people are wondering if this is *actually* good for the cannabis industry. Some say no, some say yes, some say to be quiet because it’s progress. 

I don’t think anyone is wrong because we simply haven’t seen the effects of President Biden’s actions. Yet. 

Eventually, some of us could be wrong. 

I stepped away from my phone last week for an hour, which I don’t often do during working hours. I came back to mayhem on social media. 

Everyone had opinions and my feed was covered with responses, as I’m sure yours was, too, if you’re knee-deep in cannabis like I am. 

President Biden’s official statement 

Here is the official statement on cannabis reform, released by President Joe Biden last Thursday: 

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.  Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.

Today, I am announcing three steps that I am taking to end this failed approach.

First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.  I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.  There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.  My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.

Second, I am urging all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.  Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.

Third, I am asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.  Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic. 

Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place.

Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

This led to many questions – and many opinions – from cannabis industry professionals.

The industry reacts 

It’s too early to tell

I went through a series of feelings myself after learning the news last week. I was excited, then I reminded everyone to hold their horses and not get too excited. But ultimately: it’s too early to tell how this will impact the cannabis industry at large.

Over 6,000 records were expunged after President Joe Biden’s announcement, which is no small thing. Over 6,000 people are feeling lighter and hopefully feel a sense of justice after legal cannabis has existed in the U.S. for decades without criminal justice reform. 

If that’s all that comes from this, that’s perfectly fine and should be celebrated. 

But, people won’t be released from prison over this. This doesn’t impact all people charged with cannabis crimes, just those with simple possession charges. 

It’s the bare minimum – but long overdue and its impact is not to be understated for those over 6,000 people. 

However, as it pertains to the review of cannabis’ Schedule I status and therefore its impact on cannabis business operations at large: we don’t know what that will look like yet. 

Conversations are swirling about reclassifying cannabis as a Schedule II substance. That is not a win. Tax code 280e still applies to drugs under this category. 

AND – Schedule I Substances are those with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value, while Schedule II Substances have a high potential for abuse and some accepted medical value. Is this scientifically accurate? 

The federal government earns billions of dollars by keeping cannabis illegal and scoring sweet, sweet tax revenue from licensed cannabis operators. They might not be ready to give it up. 

I saw another cannabis industry professional say that there’s no off ramp for Schedule II classification and lower. If we’re moved to Schedule II: we’re stuck and probably not moving any time soon.  

Celebrate the 6,000+ people who have a renewed sense of freedom and speak loud for descheduling cannabis – NOT rescheduling – so our licensed operators can exist without government-imposed obstacles.