The head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) says President Joe Biden’s mass marijuana pardon last year is one example of how his administration is delivering for Black voters “despite the obstruction” from Republicans in Congress.
As the 2024 presidential election ramps up amid troubling polling for the Biden administration, DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison discussed a recent White House meeting where he and other leading Black Democrats spoke with aides about how to energize Black voters and convey first-term achievements.
In his interview on MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show With Jonathan Capehart,” Harrison was asked what the president should say to Black voters who supported him and feel he’s fallen short on criminal justice commitments.
The DNC official, who himself is a strong supporter of cannabis legalization, pointed to Biden’s use of executive authority to overcome political barriers imposed by Congress, including on cannabis reform.
“The president doesn’t have a magic wand and, poof, everything gets done. He has to get things through Congress—and we have Republicans in Congress who are obstructionist, or we have a Supreme Court who decides to block it as well,” he said. “But this president, despite what Republicans do in order to block things, always finds a way.”
“A lot of folks got relief who were arrested for marijuana possession,” he said, referring to the roughly 6,500 people who received a presidential pardon over federal marijuana possession offenses last year.
Harrison—who made an unsuccessful 2020 run for a Senate seat held by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), campaigning on marijuana legalization as a means to promote racial justice—also pointed to executive actions the president has taken with respect to student loan debt relief and other issues.
Biden himself has routinely highlight his cannabis pardons, including at events focused on young and Black voters.
“I’m keeping my promise that no one—no one—should be in jail merely for the use or possession of marijuana. God Almighty,” the president said at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards ceremony in September.
That said, Biden’s pardon did not free anyone from prison and leaves out several groups of people, including immigrants and those who have been convicted of selling cannabis.
In addition to the pardon, the presidential also directed an administrative review into marijuana scheduling under federal law—an action that resulted in a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is now carrying out its part of the review before making a final determination.
The governors of six U.S. states—Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Louisiana—recently sent a letter to Biden, urging the administration to enact marijuana rescheduling by the end of this year.