Advocates and Industry Leaders Launch Campaign for Marijuana Decriminalization, as Biden’s Admin Moves Forward with Rescheduling

Press Release May 22, 2024
Media Contact

Kristen Millnick, [email protected]

Washington D.C. –Yesterday, President Biden’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officially issued its proposal to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive class, to a Schedule III drug, a less restrictive class. The proposed rule has triggered a brief, 62-day public comment period, during which individuals can provide feedback before the DEA makes a final decision on the proposed change. In response, the Drug Policy Alliance and members of United for Marijuana Decriminalization, a coalition made up of reform advocates, industry organizations, and policy experts, have launched an ambitious community outreach program to encourage residents to voice their support for federal marijuana decriminalization, or descheduling.

Under a shift to Schedule III on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), most criminal penalties for marijuana would continue at the federal level, including those for simple possession. President Biden pledged to federally decriminalize marijuana and expunge marijuana records of the 2020 campaign trail, and both Biden and Harris have touted marijuana reform as a significant accomplishment of their first term. However, the Administration’s actions to date fall short of the promises they made to voters. The Biden Administration has not released anyone in prison for marijuana, expunged any records, or reduced prison sentences for anyone incarcerated for marijuana. Under Schedule III, marijuana businesses and pharmaceutical corporations would receive tax benefits, but the harms, barriers, and racial disparities associated with marijuana criminalization would remain. For the many communities that will remain criminalized under this new classification under federal law, rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III, is simply not enough.

As a part of their campaign in support of federal marijuana decriminalization, the Drug Policy Alliance and United for Marijuana Decriminalization are encouraging members of the public to submit comments in support of descheduling through their simple online form. Over the next 60 days, DPA and UMD will carry out extensive outreach to stakeholders, particularly those who have been harmed by marijuana criminalization, inviting participation in the process and emphasizing the need for marijuana decriminalization. Through this extensive engagement strategy, the coalition is calling on the public to take advantage of this rare opportunity to have their voices heard. The Coalition hopes to convince President Biden and his Administration to follow through on his pledge to federally decriminalize marijuana. Specifically, the groups are calling on President Biden to take executive actions to mitigate the harms of criminalization by expanding pardons and commutations, protecting state marijuana programs, and directing federal agencies to cease punishing people for marijuana use. Biden can also endorse Congressional legislation as a means to pursue marijuana laws grounded in evidence, public health, racial equity, and community reinvestment.

“This public comment period is the people’s opportunity to tell the Biden Administration rescheduling isn’t enough and that it can and must take additional actions to deliver on its promises of reform,” said Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation, Drug Policy Alliance. “Even folks who stand to benefit from Schedule III can acknowledge that marijuana must be descheduled in order to end federal cannabis criminalization and that additional actions are necessary to right the wrongs of prohibition. That is, after all, what President Biden himself promised and committed to the American people. For all of the individuals, families and communities who are impacted by federal cannabis criminalization in one way or another, now’s our time to have our voices heard and included formally on the record at the federal level.”

Packer continued, “UMD’s public engagement campaign is an effort to demonstrate to both the Biden Administration and to Congress that communities are united for marijuana decriminalization and to serve as a catalyst for the types of reforms communities actually need — as opposed to Schedule III which will leave those most impacted by marijuana laws, like marijuana patients, consumers, and those with criminal records for past marijuana offenses behind.”

“For years we have been fighting for full decriminalization, as rescheduling maintains the failed status quo of marijuana criminalization and primarily serves the interests of the elite,” said Chelsea Higgs Wise, Executive Director of Marijuana Justice, a member of the United for Marijuana Decriminalization coalition. “Participating in the Biden Administration’s public comment process in this historic moment is critical for our communities to make their voices heard. We are actively engaging communities of color, communities that have been incarcerated for marijuana, and communities who live with the collateral consequences of marijuana convictions because these are the voices the White House should be listening to.  Together, we plan to submit a historic number of public comments in support of federal marijuana decriminalization and we will not rest until we get what was promised to us.”

“We are excited that we, the people of this nation, will have an opportunity to make our voices heard in support of federal marijuana decriminalization,” said Natacha Andrews, Executive Director, National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers, a member of the United for Marijuana Decriminalization coalition. “We cannot emphasize enough how important it will be to use the next 60 days to tell President Biden and his administration not to stop at rescheduling. Today marks the day that the real fight begins. We are united in our vision for marijuana reform that puts an end to criminalization, heals our communities, and paves the way for regulation rooted in social equity.”

If President Biden and his Administration fail to deschedule marijuana through the DEA’s review process, advocates hope to pressure the Administration to pursue other pathways toward comprehensive reform through executive action or support of Congressional legislation. Earlier this month, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) reintroduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), joined by fifteen other original cosponsors. The CAOA, the most comprehensive marijuana reform legislation to date, would put an end to decades of failed federal marijuana prohibition, reinvest in communities that have been harmed by marijuana criminalization, and resentence and expunge federal marijuana convictions. Unlike rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III, the CAOA would fully decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and begin to repair the harms that federal marijuana prohibition and enforcement have caused. Equity advocates, criminal justice reform leaders, and health experts are embracing the CAOA as the most comprehensive marijuana reform legislation to date.


Descheduling has amassed bipartisan support in Congress, with Representatives Blumenauer (D-OR), Joyce (R-OH), Lee (D-CA), and Mast (R-FL) leading their Congressional colleagues in two letters (in December 2022 and October 2023) to the DEA calling for descheduling marijuana, and Senator Warren (D-MA) leading eleven of her colleagues, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-OH), urging President Biden’s Administration to remove marijuana from the CSA. The House of Representatives has twice passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, a comprehensive descheduling bill with extensive criminal justice reform and community reinvestment.

A strong majority of American voters support marijuana legalization and comprehensive reform, including 55% of Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll. Policymakers, health professionals, and criminal justice advocates agree that marijuana must be removed from the CSA and coupled with comprehensive Congressional legislative reform to address racial disparities, reduce harm, and move toward an equitable regulatory framework that upholds public health.

38 states have laws that allow for medical cannabis use and 24 states have laws that allow for adult recreational cannabis use.  Despite these reforms at the state level – as long as marijuana is a scheduled substance under the CSA, the repercussions of federal marijuana criminalization will continue – even for conduct that is authorized under state law. Individuals could still face criminal penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences, for personal use and distribution. Additionally, under a Schedule III classification, people with marijuana-related convictions could still lose access to federal housing and food benefits, or even face deportation. According to the ACLU, over 80% of people sentenced for federal marijuana charges were Black or Latino. This is a clear indication that maintaining federal criminalization in any form will perpetuate racially discriminatory policing and enforcement.

Learn more about federal marijuana scheduling here.

About United for Marijuana Decriminalization

United for Decriminalization (UMD) is a coalition of leading drug policy and cannabis industry advocacy organizations concerned that rescheduling will not achieve President Biden’s stated goal of decriminalizing marijuana and ensuring no person is arrested for possession of cannabis in the United States.

About the Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. working to end the drug war, repair its harms, and build a non-punitive, equitable, and regulated drug market. We envision a world that embraces the full humanity of people, regardless of their relationship to drugs. We advocate that the regulation of drugs be grounded in evidence, health, equity, and human rights. In collaboration with other movements and at every policy level, we change laws, advance justice, and save lives. Learn more at


A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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