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Biden Administration Should End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Repair Past Harms, Prevent Future Abuses that Target Communities of Color

A demonstrator waves a flag during a protest calling for the legalization of marijuana, outside of the White House on April 2, 2016, in Washington, DC, US.  © 2016 Jose Luis Magana/AP Images

Over 80 advocacy organizations, including Human Rights Watch, called on the Biden administration today to end federal marijuana prohibition by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The letter also urges the administration to support comprehensive marijuana justice reform in Congress to begin to address racial discrimination in marijuana arrests and incarceration in the United States.

Black people in the US are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for marijuana, despite using it at rates similar to white people. A 2020 ACLU report found that in 2018, Black people were 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, up from 3.31 in 2010. Possession of drugs for personal use is by far the most arrested offense in the United States.

Today’s call for action comes in the wake of the Biden administration’s October 2022 decision to grant pardons for some federal marijuana simple possession convictions. The decision also directed the US secretary of health and human services and the attorney general to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. The groups’ letter makes clear why such a review is needed, stating that pardoning past marijuana convictions still “leaves everyone at risk for future federal marijuana arrests, even for simple possession.”

Ending the federal prohibition of marijuana needs to be coupled with comprehensive reform in Congress via legislation like the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). Such reform is needed to ensure federal marijuana arrests are expunged, records are sealed, and noncitizens are protected from detention or deportation for marijuana conduct.

While the Biden administration has made some progress in addressing the harms of marijuana prohibition, it now needs to go further to end marijuana prohibition altogether and pass comprehensive reform legislation. Human Rights Watch stands alongside the civil and human rights organizations advocating for a long overdue end to marijuana prohibition in the United States.

To contact President Biden and urge him to end federal marijuana prohibition, visit:

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