State of The Union 2024

In his State of the Union address last week, President Biden mentioned reform of cannabis laws – which marks the first time that he has done so in a major address. While describing various goals and initiatives he said that he is “directing my cabinet to review the federal classification of marijuana and expunging thousands of convictions for the mere possession, because no one should be jailed for simply using.” These are badly needed reforms and we are happy to see them getting more national attention. The war on drugs and criminal prosecutions for cannabis offenses have destroyed millions of lives and families. Cannabis should never have been classified as a schedule 1 substance and the fallout of that decision has had ramifications for decades. And it is clear that these laws disproportionately affect communities of color – further exacerbating the inequities that centuries of racist policies have created. In Illinois, since cannabis reform passed Governor Pritzker has pardoned more than 80,000 low level cannabis convictions and it was welcome to see the president discussing this issue on the federal level. And while the thousands of pardons and commutations that President Biden has issued is a step, there is much more that needs to be done. These pardons on the federal level do not actually expunge the convictions from someone’s criminal record – so it remains to be seen whether these pardons will have a substantial impact on eliminating the negative effects that these folks will experience when trying to just live a normal life, like applying for housing, education, and jobs. There are also many other people with convictions that are non-violent, but don’t fit with simple possession who have not gotten any reconsideration. Hopefully this work continues to move forward to try and make amends for the damage that a century of stigma and punitive legislation has wrought. 

We are also obviously following very closely for news on how cannabis might be rescheduled. Last fall, the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA wrote a report recommending that cannabis be rescheduled from its current classification as schedule 1 (along with heroin) as a substance with “high risk of abuse and no accepted medical use” to schedule 3 (which includes other regulated medications such as ketamine, anabolic steroids, and tylenol with codeine). The DEA is ultimately responsible for the classification and they are reviewing the recommendations, but no timeline for a decision has been given. Rescheduling will have numerous positive impacts and we strongly support the decision. It will allow for further reform of the criminal laws that continue to ruin so many lives. It will also make it so much easier for the needed studies and research to be done on cannabis as medicine. One of the biggest reservations that we hear when talking with our more skeptical medical and academic colleagues about medical cannabis is that “there isn’t enough research.” While this isn’t wholly accurate – as 32,000 papers on cannabis have been published just in the past 10 years – it is true that more research needs to be done so that we can know how cannabis can best help and to minimize adverse effects for those at risk. Rescheduling will make it much easier for researchers and scientists to set up and run the larger studies that should have been done decades ago. It will also help remove the stigma around using cannabis as medicine – leading to more clinicians learning about and using cannabis to help their patients, and for patients who are curious but fearful of potential legal ramifications to seek it out as treatment.

Those of us who see the potential for cannabis to help so many people can, of course, be frustrated at times. Progress forward has been slow, often painfully so. But we are still heartened to see that progress. If you asked us 10 years ago whether we expected to hear the president in the State of the Union talk about expunging cannabis convictions and rescheduling we would have said, “yeah, right.” So again – we are happy to see these steps and will also keep advocating for the many more reforms that still need to happen.

Scroll to Top