In a progressive push for drug policy reform, a group of 12 senators, spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), is calling on the Biden administration to completely reschedule marijuana. This move goes beyond the administration’s proposal last year to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The senators’ argument hinges on the vast scientific evidence suggesting marijuana’s medical benefits and its lower risk profile compared to drugs like heroin, fentanyl, or cocaine. The current classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug places it alongside substances deemed to have high abuse potential and no recognized medical use. This classification has historically facilitated harsh criminal penalties and has been used as a tool to disproportionately target Black communities, perpetuating the injustices of the war on drugs.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, the group of lawmakers emphasized that the strict classification and criminalization of marijuana have had devastating impacts on communities, particularly Black communities. They assert that marijuana’s placement in Schedule I was politically motivated, citing a quote from John Ehrlichman, a former Nixon administration official, about the war on drugs being used to target antiwar activists and Black people.
The senators argue that rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III, while a historic step, fails to address the root problems of criminalization and barriers to research. They underscore that maintaining marijuana’s classification under the CSA, even in a less restrictive schedule, keeps in place the criminal penalties that have historically harmed Black communities.
They further highlight the growing public support for legalizing marijuana, its potential medical applications and the role legalization could play in reducing violent drug trafficking problems. The letter concludes with a call for the Biden Administration to seize the opportunity to reschedule marijuana entirely, aligning federal policy with public opinion and scientific evidence.
This initiative is part of a broader movement advocating for the de-scheduling, decriminalization, and legalization of marijuana, a movement that has seen success in 24 states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. As the conversation around marijuana policy continues to evolve, Warren, Sanders and their colleagues are positioning themselves at the forefront of a progressive fight for fair and evidence-based drug policies.