The national consensus is very clear: the public wants to legalize weed. But police and prosecutors continue to make arrests and charge individuals (disproportionately prosecuting minorities). In 2019, there were nearly 550,000 marijuana-related arrests. That might not seem like a big deal to some people, but considering there were fewer arrests made in response to violent crimes, it’s clear that the priorities of our law enforcement and legislators have little to do with making our streets safer.
What could President-elect Joe Biden do? He could immediately move to reclassify marijuana. Right now, the substance is included as a Schedule 1 drug, right up there with heroin and cocaine (both of which can be deadly and addictive, unlike weed). Biden could also pardon or commute the sentences of every individual currently serving a sentence for marijuana-related offenses, transforming our prisons from cash cows into facilities where actual criminals are incarcerated.
This is clearly how House Democrats would like the incoming president to approach weed, as they just passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE), was passed 228 to 164. The bill would change marijuana’s status as a non-controlled substance, help expunge the records of those convicted for related crimes, and provide federal incentives to push state and local authorities in the same direction without forcing the issue. In addition, Veterans Affairs doctors would now be allowed to prescribe marijuana, which is still illegal at the federal level. Immigrants would never again face deportation when caught with marijuana.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “For too long, draconian marijuana laws have contributed to racial inequality. These bills are part of a broader movement to address inequalities in criminal justice, business and more. Today’s bipartisan vote shows just how far that movement has come. I am encouraged by the action the House has taken and I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to support these efforts as well.”
Of course, the Senate will push the bill aside — and no one knows exactly what Biden will do.