7 min read

Breaking down Biden’s marijuana move

What President Biden’s marijuana pardons will do — and what they won’t.
Breaking down Biden’s marijuana move

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Friday, October 7, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 32 days away. Election Day 2024 is 760 days away.

Thanks for reading Wake Up To Politics this week, which included a preview of the Supreme Court’s new term, my analysis of the 2022 midterms, an explainer on OPEC and gas prices, and more.

This morning, I’m taking a look at President Biden’s new marijuana pardons — and then rounding up the rest of the government actions from this week, as I do every Friday.

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Breaking down Biden’s marijuana move

In his most sweeping use of his clemency powers since taking office, President Biden announced Thursday that he would pardon all Americans convicted of marijuana possession under federal law.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

To be clear: No one is currently in federal prison just for marijuana possession, and Biden’s action does not cover people convicted of selling or distributing the drug.

However, for the approximately 6,500 Americans convicted of marijuana possession on the federal level, the pardon will still carry sweeping consequences, opening up employment, housing, or educational opportunities that might previously have been closed to them.

The vast majority of those jailed for marijuana possession were charged on the state level; Biden cannot use his pardon power for state crimes, although he did call on governors to follow suit in their states.

But there’s one exception: Biden can pardon people who break the law in the District of Columbia. Officials estimated that thousands of more people — in addition to the 6,500 — would be impacted by Biden’s extension of the pardons to D.C.

What’s next: The Justice Department promised to “expeditiously administer” the pardons and begin providing people with their pardon certificates “in coming days.”

In addition, Biden asked the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “initiate the administration process” to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Currently, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the same classification as heroin and LSD.

Although an act of Congress would be required to legalize marijuana, the executive branch could unilaterally change its scheduling. Such a move would allow “major stock exchanges to list businesses that are in the cannabis trade” and “potentially allow foreign companies to begin selling their products in the United States,” according to Reuters.

The political angle: This is the second major executive action President Biden has implemented recently with broad support among young Americans, after a string of polls showing his approval rating sinking among the demographic. (A New York Times survey in July found that just 1% of 18-to-29-year-olds “strongly approve” of Biden’s job performance.)

Between the marijuana pardons and his move to relieve federal student loan debt, the White House is hoping to motivate more young people and others in the Democratic base to come out to vote in the November midterms.

Marijuana, after all, is no longer as controversial an issue as it once was: 68% of Americans reported to Gallup last year that they support marijuana legalization, up from just 34% two decades ago. Most Americans now live in a state with some form of marijuana legalization; more states are expected to legalize the drug with ballot measures in November.

Just as the country has evolved on marijuana, his move on Thursday represents a rapid transformation for Biden. A lead author of the 1994 crime bill that set mandatory minimums for drug offenses, the president has long expressed his opposition to legalization in interviews. In the 2020 primaries, he took a much more hardened stance towards marijuana than his Democratic rivals.

(Gabe Fleisher and DALL-E)

Week in review: What else got done in Washington

Congress is out this week, and I covered the major executive action above, but I still want to give a roundup of what else your leaders in Washington were up to:

Disaster relief: President Biden signed disaster declarations for South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, allowing them all to receive federal aid to recover from Hurricane Ian. He also doubled the amount of time — to 60 days — that the federal government will pick up 100% of certain costs for Florida, including search-and-rescue, sheltering, and feeding.

Biden also announced that more than $60 million in funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law would go to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to allow the island to build up its defenses against future storms.

Ukraine: The Defense Department announced a new $625 million military aid package for Ukraine, bringing the U.S. total since February to $16.8 billion.  

Baby formula: The Department of Health and Human Services facilitated the 26th flight of overseas baby formula as part of “Operation Fly Formula,” bringing about 101,000 more pounds of formula to the U.S.

Mental health: The Biden administration announced more than $300 million in new grants for mental health programs. The funding came from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the gun control bill signed into law in June.

Education: With Biden’s student loan debt relief plan about to be implemented, the White House announced a new “all-of-government” effort to protect Americans against falling for student loan scams.

Climate: More than 20 agencies announced steps to strengthen the federal government’s resilience to climate change.

Supreme Court: The justices announced plans to hear a pair of cases about moderation on social media platforms that could have sweeping implications for speech on the Internet. The justices declined to hear cases on bump stocks and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

(Gabe Fleisher and DALL-E)

More news you should know

➞ Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) is resigning from Congress to become president of the University of Florida. It’s the latest departure of a lawmaker who voted to impeach or convict former President Donald Trump; the Nebraskan was one of seven Republican senators who voted for conviction.

➞ Federal agents believe they’ve gathered enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden, the president’s son, with tax crimes and making a false statement related to a gun purchase, according to the Washington Post. The Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware will now decide whether or not to indict him.

➞ The American economy added 263,000 jobs in September, slightly higher than economists estimated, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced this morning. The unemployment rate fell back to 3.5% from 3.7% last month.

➞ The Justice Department believes there are still more government documents that former President Trump has not returned. According to CNN, the DOJ has once again demanded to Trump’s attorneys that they hand over any documents marked classified.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse is leaving Congress. (Gage Skidmore)

More key headlines:

  • NBC: “Biden warns risk of nuclear ‘Armageddon’ is highest since Cuban Missile Crisis”
  • WaPo: “A majority of GOP nominees — 299 in all — deny the 2020 election results”
  • CNN: “Proud Boys member is first to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy”
  • NYT: “Democrats Worry as G.O.P. Attack Ads Take a Toll in Wisconsin”
  • AP: “Fetterman records show light schedule as Pa. lieutenant gov.”

Today at a glance

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch.

AT THE WHITE HOUSE: President Biden will travel to Hagerstown, Maryland this morning. After arriving, he’ll tour a Volvo plant (12:35 pm) and deliver remarks there on the economy (1:35 pm). Biden will then travel to Wilmington, Delaware, where he’ll spend the weekend.

  • Vice President Harris will ceremonially swear in Democratic activist and fundraiser Shefali Razdan Duggal as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands (2:15 pm).
  • First Lady Biden is in San Francisco. She’ll visit a cancer center at the University of California, San Francisco to discuss breast cancer research (1:15 pm) and deliver remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) women’s event (3:15 pm). Then, she’ll travel to Tacoma, Washington, where she’ll discuss job training programs at Bates Technical College (7 pm).
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Maryland.

ON THE HILL: The Senate (10 am) and House (1:30 pm) will both convene for brief pro forma sessions. Both chambers are currently on recess; no business will be conducted during the quick sessions.

IN THE COURTS: The Supreme Court will meet for its weekly conference.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

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Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe