The Drug Policy Alliance Responds to the 2024 State of the Union Address

Press Release March 8, 2024
Media Contact

Maggie Hart [email protected]

Washington D.C. – Last night, President Biden’s State of the Union address, which comes at the end of his first term in office, prominently featured two major debates in drug policy: how to address the increase in preventable overdose deaths caused by fentanyl and related substances and how to end the ongoing, racialized harms caused by federal marijuana criminalization. President Biden rightly identified the current overdose crisis and federal marijuana criminalization as two areas where he can take action to improve health outcomes, save lives, and strengthen communities. However, he incorrectly identified fentanyl crackdowns and his actions on marijuana reform as viable solutions to these pressing issues. Today, two policy experts from the Drug Policy Alliance corrected the record on what steps Biden can take to champion an evidence-based, public health approach to drug policy.


“President Biden was right last night to say that no one should be jailed for marijuana possession or use. But let’s be honest, Biden made two promises on marijuana reform on the 2020 campaign trail – to decriminalize marijuana use and expunge records – and he has failed to deliver either. Unfortunately, the President’s rhetoric simply doesn’t match the reality,” said Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation at the Drug Policy Alliance.


“Biden’s pardons haven’t released anyone from prison or expunged anyone’s records. And until marijuana is descheduled or removed from the Controlled Substances Act entirely, federal criminalization will continue to ruin countless lives, create barriers to jobs, housing, food, and education and disproportionately harm Black and Brown communities. If Biden is truly committed to ending the failures of federal marijuana criminalization he should: expand pardons and commutations beyond simple possession cases; end marijuana-based deportations of noncitizens; direct his administration to revise policies related to marijuana, including access to housing and food assistance programs; and call on the DEA and Congress to federally decriminalize marijuana by descheduling it. Like Vice President Harris said on this issue in 2020 ‘now’s no time for half-stepping.’”


Additionally, Maritza Perez Medina, Director, Federal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance emphasized the ineffectiveness and danger presented by President Biden’s promise to “strengthen penalties on fentanyl trafficking.”


“We are all concerned about the devastating toll of the overdose crisis and the lack of evidence-based treatment options and resources available to those who are struggling with substance use disorder. But what we know from decades of the war on drugs and associated crackdowns is that criminalization does not keep people safe and increases the pain and mortality of those who use drugs,” said Perez Medina.


“Cracking down on the Southern border is a failed approach that will exacerbate the violence and suffering associated with the current overdose crisis and drug trade. Clamping down on the illicit supply creates an endless game of whack-a-mole, resulting in new, increasingly potent and unpredictable drugs entering the supply. Harsh penalties and crackdowns on heroin are how we got the fentanyl crisis in the first place. We have ample evidence showing that punishing people with draconian criminal penalties, such as supporting mandatory minimums for fentanyl-related substances, will not save lives or reduce harm. We can and must learn from the mistakes of the past and do better.”


“Now is the time for President Biden to use his power to champion a public health approach to the overdose crisis. We urge President Biden to end punishment-based approaches to fentanyl and related substances, which stigmatize and harm people who use drugs. Additionally, Biden must scale up and support lifesaving overdose prevention services, including greater access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, drug checking tools like fentanyl test strips, syringe service programs, and overdose prevention centers. Harsh fentanyl penalties do not decrease the drug supply, but they will make illicit drug use more dangerous and deadly. Our communities need a health approach to fentanyl and the overdose crisis now.”


More Information:

Marijuana Scheduling Fact Sheet

Fentanyl Fact Sheet

Toolkit: Protecting Our Communities




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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