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The Biden administration is moving to reclassify marijuana. Here’s what that means

  • By Deepra Shivaram/NPR

 Leonardo Munoz / AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is expected to take another step toward reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug, a move President Biden promised when he was running for office in 2019, and that could be popular with young voters this year.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, which comes with the most restrictions. Other drugs in the category include heroin, ecsatsy and LSD.

But the Justice Department will recommend a new rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday that would move pot to a lower schedule, two people familiar with the decision confirmed to NPR. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the decision before it was made public.

The rule it will need to go through a review process before it could take effect. It’s unclear what the exact timeline of that would be. The White House declined to comment on the matter.

Biden pledged to look at this back in 2019

Biden pledged in 2019 that he would decriminalize marijuana and expunge prior convictions for pot use. He said he would support legalization for medical use — but leave decisions about recreational use up to the states.

In 2022, weeks before the midterm elections, Biden announced that he had asked the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review the classification issue. HHS finished its part of the review last year, and sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency, which is part of the DOJ, recommending that marijuana be downgraded to a Schedule III drug. Drugs in that category include ketamine and testosterone.

Drugs that are below Schedule I mean they have acceptable medical uses, according to DEA rules.

In 2022 and 2023, Biden issued proclamations that granted widespread pardons to people who had been federally convicted of simple possession of marijuana.

After Biden mentioned the issue in his State of the Union address this year, Vice President Harris has held a couple of events where she highlighted marijuana reform — an issue that has invigorated young voters and voters of color, two groups Biden and Harris need support from in order to win reelection this year.

Last week, Harris hosted a roundtable event with reality television star and businesswoman Kim Kardashian, who works on criminal justice issues. The roundtable included four individuals Biden recently pardoned for non-violent drug offenses.

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