Administration figures have begun to weigh in on the draft federal cannabis legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, that was just introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other sponsoring senators. Some of the pithiest comments came from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top doctor.
“When it comes to decriminalization, I don’t think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use. I don’t think that serves anybody well,” he said in a televised interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Although he did not come straight out and advocate for federal legalization, he contributed what many in the White House are currently trying to do: get President Biden behind the Schumer legislation.
Murthy spent much of his interview touting the science behind cannabis. “When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let the science guide us. And we know that the science tells us there are some benefits to marijuana from the medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy,” he said.
He continued, “In terms of our approach to marijuana, I worry when we don’t let science guide our process and policymaking and as Surgeon General that’s my role, is to work with policymakers who work with members in the community and the general public to help people understand what science tells us and where you gaps, to help fill those gaps with research and with honest inquiry.”
After Schumer unveiled his bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked at her daily press briefing whether or not President Biden’s opposition to federal cannabis legalization had changed. Psaki said that “nothing has changed” with respect to the President’s position. So shortly afterwards, bill co-author Senator Cory Booker tweeted that “now that a discussion draft of our legislation has been released we will start having conversations with the White House to get them behind our proposal.” Although there are no such “conversations” publicly scheduled as of this writing, senators Schumer, Booker and company will be using interviews and speeches by other reform supporters to put pressure on the administration as well. While President Biden stated during his campaign that he would back step-by-step decriminalization, so far he has not made any move to follow through. The groundswell is not being lost by the White House as persuasion is also coming from the other side: a group of Republican lawmakers recently sent a letter to President Biden urging him to keep his campaign promise and federally deschedule cannabis.