How Biden’s plan to review the scheduling of marijuana could impact the Black community

By greatbritton



After President Joe Biden asked the secretary of Health and Human Services and U.S. attorney general to “expeditiously” review the scheduling of marijuana as a part of his reform plan, one question remains: How will it impact Black people who are disproportionately impacted by cannabis laws? 

President Joe Biden speaks about student loan debt forgiveness in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 24, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

On Oct. 6, Biden released a statement which read, “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.”

At this time, under federal law marijuana falls in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act which is reserved for the most hazardous drugs. 

Biden said, “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.” 

The laws governing the use or possession of marijuana are more stringent when compared to other drugs like fentanyl. As a result, Black people have been incarcerated at alarming rates and have led to a loss of employment, housing and education opportunities.   

Patrice Willoughby, vice president of policy and legislative affairs at the NAACP, told theGrio that marijuana is not a dangerous substance; however, in the ’70s the Nixon administration categorized it as a Schedule I drug to push a political agenda. 

, How Biden’s plan to review the scheduling of marijuana could impact the Black community
The 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon, on a television screen. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

“There was a movement by some conservatives who knew that the rising progressive tide was going to be a disruptive force because public opinion was moving toward more progressive ideals,” Willoughby explained.

She continued, “The only way to marginalize progressives was to link them with some type of criminal activity and conduct and that was the genesis of the war on drugs and in linking Black communities to the progressive movement to drug policy associated with marijuana.”

Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore, told theGrio that President Biden is moving in the right direction by requesting the HHS secretary to review the scheduling of marijuana.

“By his actions, President Biden is acknowledging that scheduling drugs should be guided by science not politics. Only politics explains why heroin and marijuana are in the same schedule,” he opined.

, How Biden’s plan to review the scheduling of marijuana could impact the Black community
(Getty Images)

Willoughby said descheduling is “critical” to undoing the criminal implications of U.S. cannabis policy. “The federal government can only go so far,” she said. “This executive order will pardon around 6,500 people, but it’s up to elected officials to change the scheduling of cannabis.”

If Black communities want to see long-lasting marijuana reform, Willoughby said Black Americans must vote in the midterm elections on Nov. 8. 

“It’s important for people to get out and vote for the elected officials that will align with their preferred outcome, which is taking cannabis off of Schedule I because it has been proven not to be a dangerous substance,” she voiced.

According to senior administration officials, there is no specific timeline for how long the HHS secretary and attorney general will take to review the scheduling of marijuana. 

, How Biden’s plan to review the scheduling of marijuana could impact the Black community
WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 28: U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference at the headquarters of HHS June 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. Secretary Becerra held a news conference “to unveil an action plan at President Biden’s direction” in response to the Supreme Court ‘s 6-3 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“The process will take some time because it must be based on a careful consideration of all of the available evidence, including scientifical – scientific and medical information that’s available,” said the officials.

Biden’s marijuana reform plan will still pardon thousands of people who were convicted for simple possession of marijuana under federal law. 

Schmoke said, “Although Black people will benefit from the pardons Biden announced, the biggest impact will be if the states follow the president’s lead with respect to pardons because most drug possession convictions came as a result of violations of state law not federal law.”

Biden calls on every state governor to follow his marijuana reform plan and pardon individuals on the state level. Senior administration officials said, “Just as no one should be in federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or a state prison for that reason either.”

, How Biden’s plan to review the scheduling of marijuana could impact the Black community
President Joe Biden speaks from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Washington, as he announces that a U.S. airstrike killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP)

Willoughby believes Biden’s plan is a “good step towards restorative justice.” 

He said it’s a campaign promise made by Biden and Harris that he’s “very happy” to see they ultimately kept. He added, “It represents the opportunity to right the ship, so to speak, of a failed policy that has deprived a lot of people of the benefits of being able to participate in the economic system, housing, student loans and other aspects of just living their lives that have negatively affected African-Americans.”

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