As student loan forgiveness advocates celebrate last week’s home run at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., cannabis advocates are wondering if they’ll have their shot at the plate soon, especially with midterms on the horizon.
As we celebrate the working class people like teachers and social workers that will be able to live a better quality of life, what about the nonviolent cannabis offenders in cages? In the process of transitioning from talks about the quality of life to actual personal freedom, the matter feels even more pressing.
The left’s longest-tenured drug war hawk, Biden was forced toward the middle on the 2020 campaign trail. He knew he could not stop the cannabis snowball and started speaking about his newfound support for decriminalization, while always stopping short of legalization.
In September of 2020, Vice President Kamala Harris gave the firmest details on what the Biden-Harris ticket was promising us.
“Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana-use convictions and end incarceration for drug use alone. I think from our collective perspective, this is no time for half-steppin’. This is no time for incrementalism. We need to deal with the system and there needs to be a significant change in the design of the system,” Harris said.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) says a Biden-Harris administration would decriminalize marijuana and expunge marijuana use convictions: “This is no time for incrementalism … there needs to be significant change in the design of the system.” pic.twitter.com/578RmQjKcS
— The Recount (@therecount) September 14, 2020
At the time, this sounded like a great start for advocates. Sure they wanted to see some promises on wider legalization and banking access, but the ones who have been in it the longest mostly got in it for the sake of getting people out of cages. The regulated market was an afterthought to them. Those advocates were hyped.
After election night, it was a countdown to the inauguration. The vice president-elect had told us how it all would play out once they took the reins of power in January. During the first month, everyone was kind of apathetic as the administration worked to return regulatory structures that had been gutted to their pre-Trump format. But the clock kept ticking, especially for those in a cage who thought they might see some relief.
A month later, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus leadership led 35 lawmakers in calling on Biden to take action.
“Until the day that Congress sends you a marijuana reform bill to sign, you have a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the president. “We urge you to grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders,” the lawmakers urged the president a month after he took office.
Now, two years later, those members of congress and advocates are still waiting.
We reached out to longtime advocate Justin Strekal who recently founded BOWL PAC. The political action committee works to unify the public, interest groups, and policymakers on the plan to legalize marijuana without leaving behind the people and communities hit the hardest by enforcement.
Strekal spent years helping organize the highest-level cannabis actions the halls of Congress had ever seen. He told LA Weekly it was surreal to be here two months before midterms seeing movement on Biden’s promises, “among the things he made a commitment about was decriminalizing cannabis.”
Strekal is deeply connected in federal cannabis policy circles. We asked if he believed Biden might make a move before the election. He quickly replied it’s very difficult to assess if the Biden administration will pull the trigger.
“They seem really hesitant to do things,” Strekal said. “I don’t want to believe in Joe Biden, he’s got receipts from other campaign commitments and it’s within the realm of possibility.”
Strekal quickly emphasized he wasn’t trying to set expectations too high. But It would not be out of the blue when it does happen.
The conversation moved on to whether he’d heard anything of the communications between Biden’s team and the Senate leadership around the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.
“I know that this issue has been brought up by various Senators’ offices a number of times. But as far as what specific asks, I don’t know,” Strekal said. “We’ve seen what we’ve seen publicly, where we’ve had a number of senators sign letters calling on him to take action to decriminalize and pardon. But again, I don’t want to, I don’t want to get optimistic about something that has not happened.”
Strekal also believes if a bill did make its way to the Oval Office, it would not get vetoed.
Strekal moved on to the road map that has previously been given to Biden on how he might provide relief to nonviolent offenders.
“I just want to keep reminding people that we, advocates and industry, had sent the administration language and the legal structure for a blanket pardon based on how President Carter issued a blanket pardon for conscientious objectors to the draft,” Strekal said. “It is fully within his legal authority to issue a proclamation pardoning all cannabis offenders for federal offenses.”
Strekal said as we’re thinking about what Biden might do before the election, that’s a super tangible thing he can pull the trigger on instantly.
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