Editorial: Reclassifying marijuana is not decriminalization, but is a welcome step in that direction

A marijuana leaf.
A marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow in Gardena in 2019.
(Associated Press)
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The news Tuesday that the Justice Department plans to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug is most welcome. But very, very late in coming.

President Biden promised during the 2020 presidential campaign that he would decriminalize cannabis. Moving the substance from Schedule I, for the most dangerous and abused drugs, to Schedule III as the DOJ proposes, wouldn’t go that far, but it would be a meaningful step in the right direction.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will move to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug, a historic shift to generations of American drug policy.

April 30, 2024

It’s still far too little. Americans have scoffed at marijuana prohibitions for decades, recognizing the race and class bigotry inherent in targeting the plant, and the scary nonsense spouted by government-promoted “experts” about its supposedly demonic consequences (“Reefer Madness”!) including, ostensibly, rape, kidnapping and murder. Two dozen states have already legalized recreational cannabis use, including California. Include purported medicinal use, and cannabis can legally be produced, bought, sold, possessed and consumed by adults in three-quarters of U.S. states.

But federal law lags woefully behind, technically subjecting users to criminal prosecution and jail, and preventing producers and sellers from fully participating in the federally regulated banking system. Reclassifying cannabis, as recommended months ago by the Department of Health and Human Services, won’t remove its criminal status but it could pave the way for Congress to act.


Federal marijuana law should be updated to remove felony sanctions and provide more proportionate justice.

Dec. 27, 2023

In any free society, respect for law and the justice system is essential — and is undermined by outdated prohibitions and punishment that strike a large swath of citizens as random and groundless.

To be clear, cannabis use is not without health risks, and should be available only to adults prepared to deal with them. But for too long, the greatest risks have been arrest, prosecution and imprisonment. Arrests and convictions left many ineligible for higher education or professional licenses. Prosecutions and punishments disproportionately targeted people of color. This needlessly kept far too many people on the margins of society, unable to fully participate or contribute.

It’s time to erase those consequences.

Late last year, Biden pardoned people who were convicted of using marijuana on federal land. That tiny step was merely a down payment on his promise of decriminalization. So is the Justice Department’s most recent move. The federal government should pick up the pace.