Joe Biden might throw a wrench in the growing cannabis industry as we know it. While no one person is responsible for the war on drugs in the United States, Joe Biden certainly did, has, and may continue to have his fingerprints all over it. If his proposed criminal justice plan is any indication, he isn’t ready to give up that fight.
During Biden’s 40 years in the Senate, he helped create harsher criminal penalties for nonviolent drug offenses. And, if elected, he actually plans to step back on some of his very own work to put his recently proposed criminal justice plan into motion, but it doesn’t appear to be something worth shaking a stick at.
While the former vice president claims to back decriminalization and the removal of some cannabis offenses, he stops short of embracing legalization of the plant and actually pushes a policy that may harm the new and growing industry. If elected, Biden would lead a charge to make cannabis a Schedule II drug.
Despite a designation by the 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine review and its use as a medical aid in numerous U.S. states, cannabis remains listed as a Schedule I controlled substance along with heroin, LSD, and MDMA, meaning there is no medical value and a high potential for abuse—both of which are not true for the plant. Save for cannabis, no schedule I drugs are legal for medical use in any U.S. states.
Designating cannabis as a Scheduled II drug, on par with cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl, would both decriminalize it and allow the government to research it, though it would still be considered a drug with high potential for abuse that can lead to psychological dependence.
A senior Biden official has said:
“He very much believes that we need more research and study the positive and negative impact of cannabis use. There are a number of negative side effects of cannabis or side effects that we don’t fully understand. But he is here saying no one should be in jail because of cannabis use.”
Unfortunately for the cannabis industry, moving the plant to a Schedule II controlled substance doesn’t open any new doors. In fact, it could close some. The Schedule II designation is not intended for wellness products or recreational drubs. In fact, they are only legally available under strict Food and Drug Administration controls that would likely mean they could only be sold via licensed pharmacy after years of clinical trials, which isn’t exactly a step in the right direction.
Gavin Kogan, a California-based cannabis executive, said of the plan:
“I view Biden’s plan as a ham-fisted handing over of cannabis to the pharmaceutical industry.”
As reported by the Mind Unleashed earlier this year, the legal cannabis industry is the fastest-growing job market in the United States, but if Biden gets his way, access to cannabis may be disrupted and literally ripped from the hands of American farmers and entrepreneurs and put right into the hands of Big Pharma and corporate interests. According to Vice, this potential effect of a Biden presidency is recognized by “attorneys, consultants, academics, and entrepreneurs well-versed in US cannabis policy say.”
David Herzberg, author of Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac, warned:
“To the extent that FDA regulation always favors bigger companies that can afford to meet the regulations, then, yes, putting cannabis in Schedule II would be a sort of Big Pharma model.”
Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and former co-director of the RAND Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center, said of Biden’s plan:
“If the federal government actually enforced the CSA Schedule II, then almost all current state-legal activities would be banned and could be shut down.”
To combat the change, the cannabis industry would likely have to start lobbying, just like tobacco and alcohol.
Biden’s proposed changes to the legality of cannabis on the national level are downright terrifying to the growing grassroots cannabis industry and communities of color.
Solonje Burnett, co-founder of Humble Bloom, says, “There’s no way this [Biden’s plan] will ever go far enough to remedy the damages these communities of color have suffered,” adding that his policy will put him on “the wrong side of history, again.”