Biden Reaffirms Cannabis Stance During Campaign Stop
The president said he’s kept his promise on reform during a political event at South Carolina’s First-in-the-Nation dinner.
President Joe Biden spent all of 15 seconds talking about his cannabis policy during a Jan. 27 campaign stop in South Carolina. Biden spent the majority of his 24-minute speech talking about his administration’s economic focuses during the past three-plus years as the featured speaker for South Carolina’s Democratic Party’s (SCDP) First-in-the-Nation dinner at the State Fairgrounds in Columbia.
But the fact that the president mentioned his cannabis policy at all one week ahead of the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 3 could be an indicator of where his campaign strategy stands on cannabis moving forward. “I [kept] my promises when I said no one—no one should be in prison for merely possessing marijuana or using it, and their records should be expunged,” Biden said. “A promise made and a promise kept.”
Biden first used his clemency powers in April 2022 to pardon three individuals and commute the sentences of 75 people serving time for nonviolent drug offense. At least nine of the 78 individuals had dealt with cannabis-related offenses. Then, as part of a three-step plan for sweeping policy reform announced in October 2022, Biden moved to pardon all federal offenses involving the simple possession of cannabis and urged governors to do the same at the state level.
But while pardons are done at the executive level—by the U.S. president and state governors—they are more of a sign of forgiveness and differ from expungements, which are done at the judicial level. Despite Biden’s Jan. 27 comment about keeping his promise on expunging cannabis-related records, the president doesn’t have the authority to seal someone’s criminal record to the point where that person is no longer carrying around “paper handcuffs.” Biden did call on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to review how cannabis is scheduled under federal law as the final part of his three-step plan. The HHS recommended to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in August 2023 that cannabis be rescheduled as a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
And now that the DEA has this recommendation, many have speculated when the agency will release a proposed rule to either go along with the HHS guidance or veer from it. Will a DEA announcement come before Biden’s State of the Union address on March 7, his final such address before the 2024 presidential election? Will it come before the Republican National Convention in mid-July? Is the DEA’s timeline connected to the presidential election at all?
These questions have yet to be answered, but one thing is evident: Biden appears in position to gain significant political momentum should a cannabis rescheduling announcement precede the November 2024 election. According to an October 2023 poll released by Lake Research Partners in December, impressions of Biden would improve by double-digits should the president be successful in his directive regarding rescheduling cannabis, as first reported by Politico.
Moreover, 58% of likely voters support rescheduling cannabis to a Schedule III substance while only 19% oppose it. “Majorities of every age cohort support rescheduling, save seniors—though a plurality of seniors also supports rescheduling and by a double-digit margin,” according to Lake Research Partners. With this support for the issue, Biden will likely continue to mention his role in federal cannabis policy reform along the campaign trail in the coming months.