DPA: Rescheduling Is a Half-Step ‘Our Communities Cannot Accept’

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NEW YORK – A powerful nonprofit that works to reduce the harms of both drug use and prohibition opposes a potential reclassification of cannabis that could benefit cannabis businesses.

During a press briefing heavy on criticism of the Biden Administration for failing to deliver on campaign promises to decriminalize cannabis, it is ironic the best summary of the views of the Drug Policy Alliance’s (DPA) panel assembled for the event came from Vice President Kamala Harris.


“Now is no time for incrementalism or half-stepping,” Harris said in 2020, according to DPA Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation Cat Packer.

“And she was right,” Packer continued. “And yet, rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III, the outcome that is anticipated to result from the Biden Administration’s actions, would continue the very criminalization Biden said he would end and is the very type of incrementalism Vice President Harris criticized in 2020.”

The DPA’s objection to rescheduling the plant under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is largely rooted in what rescheduling won’t accomplish.

“Contrary to popular belief, rescheduling to Schedule III would not increase access to medical cannabis or pave the way for nationwide decriminalization,” said Dasheeda Dawson, chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) and founding director of Cannabis NYC. “Instead, it would further entrench bureaucratic barriers, limit research and access opportunities to channels that are already historically excluding black and brown communities, and ultimately impede the state and local development of the robust and inclusive cannabis industry we’re trying to build.”

The theme of the DPA briefing was clear and consistent: Rescheduling is a useless half-measure that will accomplish nothing to address the harms done by the war on drugs, particularly within black and brown communities that have borne a disproportionate burden of harm in the first place.

Even in states that have legalized cannabis for medical and recreational use, black and brown communities and entrepreneurs still aren’t dealing with a level playing field, according to Mi Sota Essence Chief Executive Officer Veronika Alfaro.

“The U.S. has legalized recreational marijuana in twenty-four states, but the reality is that the law applies differently to black and brown people,” she asserted. “We are still targeted and punished for marijuana use and any involvement within the cannabis industry. Unless current marijuana laws change at a federal level, descheduling marijuana from the CSA, black and brown communities and small business owners like myself will continue to feel the adverse effects of federal marijuana laws.”

Several times during the briefing, comments made by President Joe Biden and Harris on the campaign trail came under scrutiny, with panelists expressing great disappointment on behalf of minority communities with respect to the administration’s lack of follow-through on promises of cannabis reform.

Keeda Hayes, a federal policy analyst for the National Council of Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, noted that in a campaign video released in February, Harris claimed the Biden administration had “changed federal marijuana policy, because no one should have to go to jail just for smoking weed.”

“I totally agree that no one should have to go to jail for smoking weed; however, the federal marijuana policy has not changed at all,” Hayes said. “There are still arrests and convictions for marijuana-related offenses.”

Hayes further observed that merely rescheduling cannabis “will not prevent individuals from being arrested, charged, or incarcerated for marijuana offenses. Only when marijuana is descheduled and removed in its entirety from the CSA would Vice President Harris be able to truly say that they have changed federal marijuana policy.”

While the DPA is strongly opposed to rescheduling, panelists also made clear there are things the Biden administration can do short of descheduling that would help the cannabis industry and the communities it serves.

Alejandra Pablos, an organizer and activist serving immigrant and non-citizen communities, said the administration could eliminate the practice of using marijuana-related offenses as the basis for deporting otherwise law-abiding noncitizens.

“Since 2003, [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement] has deported well over 48,000 immigrants whose most serious offense was marijuana possession,” Pablos observed. “To fully offer protections to immigrant communities, President Biden and Congress must act now to bring relief to them.

“President Biden can and should direct the Department of Justice to use prosecutorial discretion to end the practice of marijuana-based deportations,” she continued. “President Biden can and should direct the Department of Justice to make clear that state or federal pardon expungement, record sealing, or similar relief cannot form the basis of an immigration consequence. And lastly, President Biden and the Department of Justice can instruct the Department of Homeland Security to stop eliciting and using admissions related to marijuana as justification to deny immigration benefits.”

The DPA’s bottom line was perhaps best summed up in by Dawson of the CRCC: “Deschedule or do nothing, so we can at least, at the state and local level, continue our efforts to improve the lives of our constituents [and] better inform a comprehensive federal reform legislation to fully decriminalize the plant.”