Over Two-Thirds of Public Comments Support Marijuana Decriminalization or Descheduling, According to Preliminary Analysis

Press Release June 25, 2024
Media Contact

Maggie Hart, [email protected]

Washington, D.C. Last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published a proposed rule to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which triggered a 62 day public comment period, ending on July 22, 11:59 P.M. E.T.

With the public comment period currently halfway complete, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) conducted a preliminary analysis of nearly 25,000 published comments, which revealed overwhelming support for decriminalizing marijuana by descheduling it, or removing it from the CSA.

The June 24 analysis of the 24,536 published comments, resulted in the following preliminary findings*:

In response to these preliminary findings, Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation for DPA, released the following statement:

“This data thus far appears to confirm what we know to be true: rescheduling marijuana is not enough, and the American people overwhelmingly support federal marijuana decriminalization. Individuals and communities across America, especially those who are most impacted by federal criminalization, are demonstrating to the Biden Administration that decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana the right way is not only good policy, but also a popular, bipartisan issue with broad support. With less than 30 days left in the public comment process, we are doubling down on our efforts to make it clear to the Biden Administration and federal leaders that Americans need and demand reforms beyond rescheduling, including decriminalization and common-sense federal marijuana reform guided by evidence, health, racial equity, and reinvestment.

“It’s especially significant that nearly a third of all public comments demonstrate support for federal marijuana policy that addresses past harms, racial disparities, and advances social justice. This demonstrates the urgency of not only putting an end to federal criminalization, but also taking steps to address the ways that marijuana criminalization ruins lives and disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx communities. That means expunging records, issuing broader pardons, ensuring legal markets are both responsible and equitable, and reinvesting marijuana tax revenues back into the people and communities that have borne the brunt of over-policing and racially discriminatory enforcement.

“In the final weeks of the public comment process, it’s critical that everyone, especially the individuals and communities that have been harmed by marijuana criminalization, raise their voices. We know that White House officials are reading these comments and taking note. We have a historic opportunity in front of us to shape federal marijuana policy and push the White House to implement policies and take actions that align with the will of the American public — and we are determined to capitalize on that opportunity.”


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 use 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 decriminalized marijuana use or released anyone in prison for marijuana, expunged any records, or reduced prison sentences for anyone incarcerated for marijuana. Under Schedule III, research restrictions are expected to change, and marijuana businesses would receive tax parity, but criminalization and its harms, barriers, and associated racial disparities would remain. For the many individuals and 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 (DPA) and United for Marijuana Decriminalization (UMD) launched a tool to help members of the public easily customize and submit a message to the DOJ in support of federal marijuana decriminalization. Since the public comment period opened, DPA and UMD have been carrying out extensive outreach to stakeholders, particularly those who have been, or continue to be, harmed by marijuana criminalization, inviting their participation in the process and emphasizing the need for marijuana decriminalization.

Despite the limitations of rescheduling marijuana, the President can take action on marijuana reform through the executive branch. Through UMD’s public education and outreach strategy and other coalition efforts, they are demanding that President Biden and his administration take additional actions to follow through on his pledge to federally decriminalize marijuana. Specifically, UMD is calling on President Biden to take a whole of government approach, to advance equity in federal marijuana policy and 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 that would deschedule marijuana and address the harms of marijuana criminalization, such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in the House and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the Senate.

Learn more about federal marijuana scheduling here.


On the morning of June 24, 2024, two DPA staff members exported the public comments posted in response to the DEA’s proposed rule to reschedule marijuana and conducted independent analyses using identical methods to analyze the data. Below is a summary of the methods they used.

First, the analysts identified comments that were submitted in bulk using prominent public comment tools that support descheduling, including the one hosted by United for Marijuana Decriminalization, which had submitted 3,103 comments through its tool at that time. Next, using Python, the analysts input key search terms to identify comments in support of descheduling, and comments that demonstrate support for federal marijuana reform to address racial justice and social equity. Then, the analysts manually scanned and sorted the comments to ensure that comments including the key search terms were not only mentioning the terms, but in fact in favor of those terms. Finally, the instructions and comments were run through Chat GPT to confirm the accuracy of the results.

To assess support for descheduling, key search terms included: deschedule, descheduling, de schedule, de scheduling, de-schedule, de-scheduling, unschedule, unscheduling, un schedule, un scheduling, decriminalize, de criminalize, de-criminalize, decriminalizing, de criminalizing, de-criminalizing, remove from schedule, remove from the schedule, remove from CSA, remove from the CSA, remove from controlled substances act, remove from the controlled substances act, please legalize, rescheduling is not enough, need to legalize, I support legal, legalize marijuana, legalize cannabis, declassify, declassification, time to legalize, just legalize it, should be legal, should be fully legal, should be fully removed, should be completely legal, should be removed, legalize!, legalize it!, legalize it, make it legal, take it off, support cannabis legalization, treated like alcohol, needs to be removed, needs to be fully legal, I support full legal, I support fully legal, full federal legal, complete federal legal, and full legalization.

To assess support for racial justice and social equity, key search terms included: social justice, racial justice, racial equity, social equity, racial disparity, racial disparities, racism, racist, drug war, war on drugs, disproportionate impact, unjust, disproportionately target, marginalized communities, people of color, and injustices.


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 drugpolicy.org.

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.

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

Sign up for updates from DPA.