Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants to send the Biden administration a message: End prohibition of cannabis, once and for all, by fully descheduling it rather than simply rescheduling it to a slightly less restrictive category. The time is right for real change.
On Sunday, the senator called for Attorney General Merrick Garland and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to act to deschedule cannabis at a press conference in Harlem, New York. Cannabis is currently classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance, the most restrictive category and the same as heroin, with “no currently accepted medical use.”
“Descheduling marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act is not just a social justice issue; it’s an economic, medical, and public safety issue. Since marijuana was classified as a Schedule I substance during the war on drugs, countless lives have been torn apart, and individuals in primarily Black and brown communities have been targeted for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses,” Gillibrand said. “Studies show that legalizing marijuana could help reduce violence in international drug trafficking and generate billions of dollars for the economy. The vast majority of Americans agree that marijuana should be legalized—that’s why I’m calling on the Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Administration to swiftly deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.”
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that the DEA move cannabis to schedule III after careful review by federal authorities, but that may not be enough. High Times asked the senator why it’s critical to deschedule cannabis entirely, versus simply moving it to a less restrictive category.
“Rescheduling marijuana will not correct the wrongs of our current judicial system, which has historically targeted Black and brown communities for marijuana related offenses,” Gillibrand told High Times.
The senator continued, “Descheduling marijuana is a critical step toward decriminalization, and it could also reduce violence in international drug trafficking, make the United States competitive in global markets, and generate billions of dollars for the economy.”
Gillibrand is joined by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, New York State Senator Cordell Cleare, New York City Council Member Yusef Salaam, New York State Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs, New York State Assemblymember Rev. Al Taylor, Executive Director of Empire State NORML David Holland, and business leaders across New York. Gillibrand also reiterated her stance on social media as the 2024 general election gears up.
“Classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug—something more dangerous than cocaine or fentanyl—has harmed communities and denied critical relief to vulnerable patients,” the senator posted on X. “It’s time to legalize and deschedule marijuana altogether.”
The current status of cannabis at the federal level puts individuals at risk, some more than others.
Gillibrand’s Ongoing Support for Cannabis Reform
The senator has voiced her opinion that cannabis should be legal at the federal level several times before, including the campaign trail of the 2020 general election. In 2017, Gillibrand introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect (CARERS) Act with Al Franken, Rand Paul, and Cory Booker, and then in 2018, she cosponsored the Marijuana Justice Act along with Sen. Booker.
In 2019, when she was running for president of the U.S., Gillibrand released a plan for the national legalization of cannabis, saying that she would make the issue a “top priority” of her presidency.
“America’s federal prohibition of marijuana needs to end now,” Gillibrand wrote, acknowledging the need for access to medical cannabis. “Millions of Americans seek medical marijuana to treat chronic or severe pain — often in an effort to avoid prescription opioids — but access is limited by insurance coverage and availability of medical marijuana dispensaries, even in states where medical marijuana is legal,” Gillibrand wrote. “We should be expanding patients’ access to treatment they need, especially when it helps reduce addiction to dangerous medications.”
Little action at the federal level isn’t helping anyone, and she believes supporting cannabis could be a major factor in the upcoming general election.
A Boost for Biden
Federal authorities have been toying with the idea of rescheduling cannabis to schedule III, and cannabis would be regulated like Tylenol III’s or hormone replacement therapy. If the HHS’ recommendation to reschedule cannabis on the federal Controlled Substances Act becomes a reality, it could make an impact on President Joe Biden’s favorability ahead of the upcoming 2024 presidential election. There is now data to support that idea.
A recent survey found broad support across demographics and suggested Biden could see an 11% favorability boost if it occurs.
The survey, conducted by Lake Research Partners, revealed a number of key findings surrounding registered voters and attitudes surrounding cannabis, namely that Biden could boost his favorability by 11% among younger voters should cannabis move from Schedule I to Schedule III.
“By the end of the poll, impressions of Biden improve by a net double-digits—an 11-point swing overall, including a double-digit (+11-point) swing among younger voters,” the survey notes.
“In conclusion, rescheduling cannabis is not only the right move from a policy perspective, it is also politically helpful,” the survey concludes. “Nowhere is this more true than for younger voters—one of the most cross-pressured groups of voters, and also the most sanguine about rescheduling.”
New York leaders like Gillibrand believe reclassifying cannabis under schedule III does not go far enough. Instead, the Biden administration should take a bolder move and deschedule it altogether, giving Americans what they clearly want.