Times have changed, public opinions on cannabis are shifting and so is the stance of our government officials. Or are they just following the green and should we care?



Photographed by Julianne Bavero | @ohdamnjulianne

Times are changing, public opinions on cannabis are shifting and so is the stance of our government officials, or are they just following the green and should we care. 

Looking ahead to the week of September 21st, The House of Representatives will vote to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level.  This is not legalization but would allow states to create their own cannabis policies. If passed, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug. 

A summary of the MORE Act (H.R. 3884) as per Congress including the following:

  • Removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act 

  • Eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana.

  • Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,

  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees

  • Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs

  • Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund.

  • Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers.

  • Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions.

  • Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and

  • Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

Here’s some context to understand the significance of this historical moment.

Drugs listed in DEA as a Schedule I include: Cannabis, Heroin, LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote, and MDMA. To be a Schedule I drug it has to have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Schedule II drugs include: Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Methadone, Oxycodone, Fentanyl, Adderall, Ritalin and Vicodin. Schedule II drugs are substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence and can be prescribed by a Doctor.

It is interesting that plants like cannabis, psilocybin and peyote which have been used for thousands of years for medicine and indigenous ceremony are Schedule I drugs while two out of three overdose deaths in America involved an opioid like prescription opioids as stated by the CDC. The hypocrisy becomes even more real when you take into account that The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has patent no. 6,630,507. It covers “cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and HIV dementia..”

So why has cannabis remained a Schedule I drug of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970? Because it was a crucial element in Nixon’s ‘war on drugs’ which was a veil for his racist war on Black and brown people.  He even created the Shafer Commission in 1972 to try and prove the dangers of cannabis. Instead, research showed the benefits and he was advised to decriminalize, as shown he chose propaganda over science. 

Now here we are in 2020, a year of revealing the truth, unearthing inequalities, and hopefully flipping racist paradigms that began hundreds of years ago before cannabis prohibition. 

The bill is presented by New York Representative and judiciary committee chair Jerry Nadler and sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general who is currently Democratic Vice Presidential nominee for the 2020 election. 

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris in a statement. “We need to start regulating marijuana and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives,” she stated. “As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”

This is a 360 flip from when Harris was California's attorney general from 2011 to 2017, when hundreds of thousands of Californians were arrested for cannabis, according to a 2016 Drug Policy Alliance report

While Biden has opposed cannabis legalization over the years, supported tough-on-crime legislation including the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and established mandatory minimum sentences for cannabis he has since voiced regret for the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine that stemmed from those measures. 

In an interview with The New York Times editorial board that was released in January 2020 Biden opposed legalization and supported rescheduling cannabis to a Schedule II drug until further studied ensuring that it is not a “gateway drug”. 

Biden still opposes cannabis legalization but supports decriminalization, legalizing medical use, record expungement, and allowing states to make their own policies as per his campaign website.

 “We’re going to make sure that we change the entire system in the way in which we deal with criminal justice from punishment to rehabilitation, no one should be going to jail because they have a drug addiction,” Biden expressed in the interview with ABC News. 

Back to the question, should we care and hold our government officials accountable for past doings? Yes we absolutely should. Should we be questioning them when they don’t seem sincere and are seemingly just jumping on the bandwagon? Yes, we can not be blindly led. However, we are in a time of learning and unlearning. Let’s look back to go forward, acknowledging our past wrongdoings in order to create a better future narrative.