Biden's federal marijuana pardons are just the start, says expert

Medical marijuana

The Biden administration’s pardon of people convicted of simple marijuana possession on the federal level is just the start, according to an expert from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“This is a welcome development for drug reform advocates and many of Biden's supporters who have been waiting for him to fulfill his campaign promise to address marijuana prohibition,” said Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy.

Biden’s action impacts about 6,500 people. It does not apply to those convicted on the state level.

Medical marijuana

“This is significant but still a relatively low number when you consider that roughly 300,000 marijuana-related arrests were made last year, nearly all at the state level,” Harris said. “Still, this is an important step forward that sends a strong message about where the administration stands on this issue and one that will hopefully nudge states toward reform. Whether governors of more conservative states will heed President Biden's urging to pardon citizens for prior marijuana offenses remains to be seen.”

Moving forward, a review of marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 substance could lead to opportunities to research its potential health risks and benefits, she explained.

“This designation, which is reserved for drugs with high abuse potential and no medical value, severely curtails research into the health effects of cannabis,” Harris said. “But more than half of the population now lives in a state where medical cannabis is legal, and we urgently need more rigorous research evaluating the potential risks and benefits of medicinal cannabis use.”