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President Biden Takes Steps to Reclassify Cannabis, Easing Federal Restrictions

President Joe Biden announced significant strides in modifying federal marijuana policies, revealing plans to reclassify cannabis to a less restrictive category. This initiative marks a substantial shift in the federal stance on marijuana, which could lessen the operational burdens on state-legal cannabis businesses and expand research opportunities.

Background of the Reclassification

The announcement, made via a video on X (formerly Twitter), indicated that the administration aims to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I, the most stringent classification, includes substances deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. In contrast, Schedule III substances are recognized to have medical benefits and a lower potential for abuse.

“This is monumental,” President Biden emphasized, acknowledging the profound implications of this policy shift. The decision follows a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services in August, which suggested that cannabis’s current classification was overly restrictive based on recent evidence.

Implications of Reclassification

While this change will not federally legalize marijuana, it represents the most significant alteration in federal drug policy in over fifty years. By reclassifying cannabis, the administration aims to alleviate the heavy tax burdens on cannabis companies that operate legally under state laws and to facilitate more extensive research into the plant’s medicinal benefits.

The move also reflects a significant evolution in Biden’s stance on cannabis. As a senator, he was instrumental in crafting the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which tightened federal penalties for marijuana. During his 2020 presidential campaign, however, Biden endorsed decriminalizing the drug and expressed that no one should be incarcerated for marijuana possession, though he stopped short of supporting full federal legalization, citing concerns about its potential as a “gateway drug.”

Political and Social Context

The reclassification could also have strategic implications for Biden’s reelection campaign, particularly concerning his popularity among younger voters. Recent polls suggest a need to bolster support within this demographic, as Biden currently leads former President Donald Trump by a narrower margin among voters aged 18-29 compared to four years ago.

Support for more lenient marijuana policies is high among young voters, with a national poll indicating that 65 percent of likely voters aged 18 to 25 support the administration’s move to a less stringent classification. Only 14 percent were opposed. These statistics suggest that Biden’s new stance on marijuana could help solidify his appeal among younger constituents, potentially swaying the youth vote in his favor in the upcoming election.

Next Steps in the Reclassification Process

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has laid out the formal steps for the reclassification, including publishing guidance and a detailed report by the agency’s Office of Legal Counsel explaining the rationale behind the decision. The next phase involves a 60-day comment period initiated by the notice for rulemaking posted in the federal registry, inviting public input on the proposed changes.


President Biden’s commitment to reclassifying marijuana is a clear indication of his administration’s dedication to reforming outdated federal drug policies. “Far too many lives have been upended because of [our] failed approach to marijuana,” Biden stated, affirming his commitment to correcting past injustices associated with marijuana prosecutions.

This policy shift not only seeks to rectify historical wrongs but also aligns federal law more closely with the current scientific understanding and public sentiment regarding cannabis. As the nation watches these changes unfold, it becomes clear that the administration is setting a new course aimed at fostering more research, reducing unnecessary legal burdens, and ultimately supporting the communities most affected by previous drug enforcement policies.