The country has evolved on marijuana policy. Polls show large swaths of the country now favor legalization, an attitude that dovetails with a wave of states and cities that have either ended prohibition or embraced decriminalization. But despite a decade of progress, this year’s presidential election pits two candidates still stuck in the past.
Now, the country’s leading cannabis advocacy group is ramping up the pressure. In a press release on Thursday, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, made an impassioned call for both Donald Trump and Joe Biden to “to pledge to take steps to end America’s failed federal policy of marijuana criminalization.”
“The criminalization of marijuana financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color,” NORML Executive Erik Altieri said in a statement. “Americans demand a President who recognizes this reality and who will seek to amend federal law in a manner that comports with scientific consensus, public opinion, and the plant’s rapidly evolving cultural status.”
In the release, NORML noted that “neither Trump nor Biden has provided a viable strategy to end federal marijuana prohibition or to facilitate the growing, state-sanctioned retail cannabis industry,” while pointing to a recent Gallup survey showing that “67 percent of Americans support legalizing and regulating the adult-use of marijuana, including outright majority support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.”
The organization appealed to both candidates on “behalf of the tens of millions of Americans who support replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of adult-use legalization and regulation, as well as on behalf of the interests of those residing in the majority of US jurisdictions that have liberalized their own state-specific policies in a manner that is divergent from federal law” to embrace a number of sweeping reforms to marijuana policy on the federal level.
Those changes include descheduling marijuana on the federal Controlled Substances Act, where it is classified as a Schedule I alongside LSD and heroin, a move that NORML says would ensure that “states, not the federal government, are the primary regulators of marijuana policy and so that local governments (that wish to do so) can take steps to regulate the marijuana market unimpeded by the threat of undue federal interference.”
Other proposed reforms include an “automatic review of federal convictions specific to low-level marijuana-related offenses, and for the expungement and/or resentencing of these convictions when applicable”; “federal financial assistance to facilitate state and local governments to review and expunge non-violent marijuana convictions through the issuance of grants and other resources. inducements and resources”; and to ensure that “a portion of revenues derived from businesses in the marijuana sector are circulated and reinvested into those communities most adversely impacted by prohibition, and that the emerging legal industry creates pathways for ownership opportunities for local small businesses, as well as engage in practices that promote social justice and equity.”
Trump Versus Biden
The Trump administration has taken a hardline position against legalizing marijuana, while Biden has committed to some reforms while stopping well short of legalization. Members of Biden’s campaign and Bernie Sanders’ campaign formed a task force to offer up a number of policy recommendations to the Democratic nominee, but the two camps apparently were miles apart on legalization, which Sanders supported. Instead, the task force’s recommendation on marijuana included decriminalization on pot, but said that “states should be able to make their own decisions” on legalization of recreational use.
NORML was also critical of that proposal.
“It is impractical at best and disingenuous at worst for the Biden campaign to move ahead with these policy proposals,” Altieri said earlier this month. “Rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act would continue to make the federal government the primary dictators of cannabis policy, and would do little if anything to address its criminal status under federal law.”