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IN THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH

The yearly spectacle of the Commander In Chief pardoning members of the meleagris gallopavo domesticus family continued in its usual form before the Thanksgiving holiday, when Indiana residents Peanut Butter and Jelly were spared from becoming presidential dinner. Yet when reporters asked whether President Biden would be pardoning any people in addition to turkeys — specifically people serving life sentences for cannabis possession whom Biden has previously promised to release — the answer was silence.

As is well-known to the industry, such clemency was one of Biden’s campaign promises, yet with nearly one year in office there has been no movement toward any of the pledges he made during his campaign. If anything, the President’s own well-known personal opposition to adult‑use legislation has seemed to drive the bus, with the previous firing of White House staff over cannabis use and the opposition to legalized sales in Washington D.C.

Yet activity more favorable to cannabis continues to swirl around the White House. A group of more than 150 politicians, celebrities, athletes, academics and law enforcement professionals recently sent a letter to Biden urging him to provide a “full, complete and unconditional pardon” to all people with non-violent federal cannabis convictions. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the lead signer of that letter, has been speaking out in media interview about how Biden should grant this mass pardon and boost the economy “with the stroke of a pen.”  

Which is backed up by a just published report from the Congressional Research Service. The report confirms that the president indeed has the power to grant mass pardons for cannabis offenses, and that the administration does not have to wait for Congress to act before it can federally legalize cannabis.

In addition, Biden has to look no farther than Philadelphia to see how the process would work. Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is in his final year in office, and has just pledged to get as many cannabis pardons through the system as possible before he leaves. As the chair of the state Board of Pardons, Fetterman introduced an expedited petition program where people with non-violent convictions can get their records cleared, with no fee or attorney needed. Such “silly charges” in Fetterman’s words include a man with a felony conviction in 1975 for possession of eight ounces, and a doctor who was jailed for growing cannabis he was using to provide relief for his dying wife.

At least there is one small piece of promising change from the White House in the past fortnight: Biden’s intended nominee as a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner is Dr. Robert Califf who is pro-cannabis. He has publicly acknowledged that “we understand that people have identified a number of possible uses of marijuana and marijuana‑derived products … AIDS wasting, epilepsy, neuropathic pain … cancer and chemotherapy-induced nausea. I had the chance to prescribe some of this in my cardiology practice.” The FDA, of course, would be heavily involved in any hoped-for future federal efforts to deschedule cannabis … which leads us to our second story this issue.