Biden Administration Moves To Lessen Restrictions On Marijuana | Crooked Media
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April 30, 2024
What A Day
Biden Administration Moves To Lessen Restrictions On Marijuana

In This Episode

  • The Department of Justice took a significant step on Tuesday to downgrade federal restrictions on marijuana. The DOJ submitted a formal recommendation to the White House to reclassify it as a Schedule III drug. It’s a monumental shift in federal drug policy because, for more than 50 years, the U.S. government has considered marijuana to be among the most dangerous drugs, on par with heroin and LSD. Krishna Andavolu, the host and executive producer of the Vice TV show Weediquette, explains what reclassification could mean for businesses, medicine, and criminal justice.
  • And in headlines: The New York judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money trial fined the former president $9,000 for violating a gag order, police arrested students that had occupied Hamilton Hall on Columbia University’s campus, and a key federal task force issued new recommendations for women and breast cancer screenings.


Show Notes:




Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, May 1st. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What a Day, where we ask hard questions like Barbra Streisand. Who posted on Melissa McCarthy’s Instagram, did you take Ozempic? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, except when we are asking the hard questions, it is typically not in public like that, usually on a side text. But anyways, thank you, Babs, for your–


Tre’vell Anderson: –investigative journalism. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –[?] question. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously. [laugh] [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, police clashed with protesters on Columbia’s campus overnight and former President Trump gets threatened with jail time. But first, the Department of Justice took a significant step Tuesday to downgrade federal restrictions on marijuana. The Department of Justice submitted a recommendation to the White House to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. And it’s a really monumental shift in federal drug policy because for more than 50 years, the federal government has considered weed to be among the most hazardous drugs. It’s classified as schedule one alongside heroin and LSD, which means it’s considered to have no medical benefits and a high potential for abuse. But now the government wants to downgrade it to a schedule three drug, putting it on par with prescription drugs like ketamine, anabolic steroids and testosterone. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It has been known for a while that uh weed is not really on par at all with the other schedule one drugs. This shift has been a long time coming, but it actually really is monumental for so many reasons, potentially has massive implications for everything from criminal justice, medical research and business. All kinds of things. Tell us more about this. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And it’s worth keeping in mind here, though, that the federal government is not legalizing marijuana the way that nearly half the states have in recent years. It’s just reclassifying the drug. So it will still be considered a controlled substance at the federal level. But to get a better idea of what this change means I spoke with Krishna Andavolu. He’s the executive producer and host of the Vice TV show “Weediquette.” I started by asking him just how big of a shift this is in federal drug policy. 


Krishna Andavolu: The longest time marijuana has been considered as bad as heroin, which is something I think most people in their daily lives would understand isn’t the case. So this is a bit of catch up, I think that the federal government is doing, but it is certainly a step towards federal policy, looking a little bit more like the world that we know. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. And we should be clear, right, that the DEA is not legalizing marijuana for recreational use, which obviously a lot of states have done. It’s merely reclassifying it as a schedule three substance on par with a lot of prescription drugs. What does this change once it is reclassified? 


Krishna Andavolu: Well, it means a lot of things. I mean, I think the biggest thing that it might mean to marijuana business owners is that they can write off normal business expenses, uh for federal taxes. That’s huge. But that might be a different conversation. I think what really is at stake here is schedule three means that potentially, if the FDA reviews certain drugs that are applied for by pharmaceutical companies or otherwise, marijuana could actually be a recognized medicine. There’s an interesting distinction to make right now. Like when you get medical marijuana in any state, you’re not actually getting it prescribed, you’re getting it recommended, which is a difference because it means that the FDA hasn’t approved this as a drug. It just means that a doctor can recommend that you go to a medical marijuana dispensary and receive that medicine, so to speak. Uh. So that is like a small distinction, but it’s a huge one that could eventually have like huge ramifications on what medical marijuana can do. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Beyond getting the ability to write off certain expenses for their businesses for a tax break. What does this move signal to those business owners that are already in this industry? 


Krishna Andavolu: Well, I think if I’m a business owner in this industry and I operate between states in numerous states, I want to be able to ship my products from one state to another without it being illegal. And so I think this might signal to a business owner that this could happen one day. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s not going to happen next year. Um. But if you were to introduce someone who’d never heard of any of this before to the state of play of the business of marijuana right now in the United States, they would say, like, this is ridiculous. Like any normal commodity trade will have regional production hubs, regional distribution centers that cross state lines all the time, no big deal. But in every state you have to, quote unquote, “grow the weed” in that state. So if you live in Southern California, you can’t bring pot to Arizona. So I think, like business owners at this moment are facing a lot of headwinds to actually make this a functioning industry. And the reason that’s important is because if the legal industry doesn’t function, consumers are just going to turn back to the illegal industry, or rather, we should call it the legacy industry. I think that’s what people like to call it these days and for a good reason, because there was no reason for it to be illegal in the first place. It’s really important for this to succeed, to have it be logical and have it work for people who have taken the risk of opening like a legitimate marijuana business. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. I want to get into kind of the politics of this all, right. There’s this prevailing thought out there that this could be some sort of cynical attempt by the Biden administration to shore up support among younger folks, among people of color, ahead of the election. To what extent do you think that is what’s happening here? 


Krishna Andavolu: If you look at marijuana policy and how it’s changed through the years, it’s always been billed as this double edged sword where not only is it a social justice initiative, where we know that the war on drugs was a racist failure, many people have suffered mostly Brown and Black communities, and we know that legalization should be a ticket away from that kind of criminalization of basically normal behavior. However, the other side of that sword is that it helps tax dollars. It helps revenue. You know, this is a new market that can be unlocked for the state to collect and and fill their coffers. Um. But from a political standpoint, I think the polling indicates that most young people and most Americans support legalization of some kind, but there isn’t a lot of polling that indicates that this is like a one issue voter. Surely people who have businesses eventually, when this actually is codified, can write off their expenses, but this is a very small portion of the population. So I really don’t think it moves the needle from a political, actual voter standpoint. But it is also potentially the last time that this administration can do something like this, which is to say, who knows what happens in November and the next administration might not do the same thing. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Now with every, you know, new development when it comes to like, marijuana regulation, I feel like we have to talk about all of the people, right, who’ve been criminally convicted for past marijuana offenses, especially at the federal level. We know that President Biden has already pardoned thousands of people who were convicted of simple possession. But will this reclassification, you know, have any shift in that regard? Will it force the federal government to reconsider perhaps other, more serious charges? 


Krishna Andavolu: No. Plain and simple. I think the way that federal statutes work and criminal code works as regards to cannabis and marijuana are about weight and distribution, not about what the schedule itself is. So it actually has very little to do with the criminal justice side of things. The state of play right now is that there is a lot of weed moving illegally from state to state, a lot of diversion from legal state programs where it’s being grown to places where people are buying it. So if you look at New York, for example, or New York City, there are thousands of basically illegal unlicensed dispensaries selling a bunch of pot. And a lot of it comes from California. I’ve like, followed a shipment from California to New York. I’ve seen it in action. And so the way I see this development in cannabis history is it’s a slow movement by the federal government to come to terms with the actual reality on the ground of what most people are living. Most Americans live in a state where cannabis is functionally legal by population, and so it’s a lot late, but it’s still a big move. And I should note that there’s a lot of people in the legalization community who wanted marijuana to be completely descheduled from the Controlled Substances Act. And it’s not just like activists. They’re ten U.S. senators who signed a letter, an open letter to HHS saying, hey, let’s not just move it to schedule three. Let’s take it off the schedule completely. And that would mean different things for how people are punished for having pot. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. And we should note, right, that a number of states that have legalized the drug have tried to reconsider charges that various folks have had, often to mixed results. And the burden is often put on the people right to advocate for their own convictions to be expunged. I wonder from your experience from covering this issue for so long, is there a better way to go about that? 


Krishna Andavolu: Some states have put actual money into going back through the record. I believe New Jersey did that. That does work, but oftentimes it’s up to individuals who are often either indigent or otherwise don’t have the means to go through their own record to get it expunged. So it really is about like what the language of legalization says, what the regulations that these states come up with as they implement these programs, both from like the standpoint of criminal justice, but also from the standpoint of how the marketplace works. And those two things are actually more intertwined than you might think, because a lot of the states that have legalized recently have also tried to implement a social equity program for people to own businesses in the cannabis space. And the reason I think that this move by the federal government might be actually pretty important to that end is that at the moment, it’s actually really tough for a small business to make money as a cannabis seller legally. And a big reason is you can’t write off some of these normal business expenses on your federal tax returns. So I think anything really can help. 


Tre’vell Anderson: We know that the rescheduling is not happening immediately. So what do next steps look like with this? 


Krishna Andavolu: I think it’s that the Office of Management and Budget have to look at this recommendation and approve it. And I’m not sure if there’s any timeline that’s actually indicated within the controlled substances act for like how long that can take. This could take weeks. It could take months. It could potentially bleed into a next administration if that is what happens. It’s still at a very contingent stage. But I think everyone has been expecting this. They’ve been expecting it. I mean, myself, I’ve been expecting it this year precisely because of the political ramifications, but mostly just because it’s the last chance for this administration to get something like this done. We just don’t know exactly when it’ll be implemented and on the ground. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was my conversation with Krishna Andavolu, the host and executive producer of the Vice TV show “Weediquette.” 


Priyanka Aribindi: Now, let’s take a look at what the federal government’s move to reschedule marijuana could mean for the bigger national push to decriminalize the drug at the federal level. We were able to speak with Seema Sadanandan while she was in transit earlier. She served as a senior policy adviser to the Biden-Harris campaign on racial equity, justice and policing. Much of her work in justice reform over the past two decades has been specifically on decriminalizing marijuana. And she previously worked for the ACLU’s chapter in D.C., where she led the movement to legalize the drug. Sima says that the reclassification is an acknowledgment that marijuana has health benefits. 


[clip of Seema Sadanandan] This is the most consequential drug policy reform in 50 years. It’s the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition. It’s a recognition that science matters and that science should drive drug policy. That seems obvious, but the idea that cannabis didn’t have any medical use fueled the rise of mass incarceration in this country and a racially disparate war on drugs. It’s a new era, and I think we’re going to see a lot more energy at the federal and state level to move forward with cannabis legalization and repairing the harms of the war on drugs. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. And as she alluded to there, we know the disproportionate impact that the criminalization of marijuana has had on Black and Brown people in this country. We asked her about the overall impact that this move will have under the Biden administration, and how legalizing marijuana is crucial to ending mass incarceration. Here’s what she had to say. 


[clip of Seema Sadanandan] The movement to legalize cannabis and criminal justice reform go hand in hand. They’re all born out of social and legal movements to resist an unfair and racially disparate pattern of enforcement and punishment in our country. There was also, simultaneously, a movement to advance the legal status for plant medicine, and all three of these efforts converged in the rescheduling of cannabis. In order for the health agencies to come to their conclusion. They had to literally create a new way of analyzing the current acceptable medical use of cannabis. They only did so because the president told them to do it. He pushed through all the politics and they went right to the science. It’s a watershed moment, and it’s incredible because when this goes through, this president will actually be the most significant drug policy reformer that our country has ever had. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Really big change happening here. As Krishna Andavolu mentioned earlier, there is quite a lengthy process ahead still, but we will keep you updated throughout all of it. We’ll get to some headlines in just a moment, but if you are enjoying our show, please make sure to subscribe and share it with your friends. We’ll be right back after some ads. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


[clip of police officers at Columbia University] Back up. Get back! Get back or get arrested. Get back or get arrested.


Tre’vell Anderson: And now for the latest at Columbia University. At the time of this taping at 10:15 p.m. eastern time Tuesday, hundreds of officers from the New York Police Department swarmed Columbia University. Officers entered Hamilton Hall by force, where a group of pro-Palestinian protesters broke in and occupied the building. Shortly after police made their way into the building, the university sent out a statement, quote, “we regret that protesters have chosen to escalate the situation through their actions,” adding “after the university learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized and blockaded, we were left with no choice. We will not risk the safety of our community or the potential for further escalation.” Police detained and loaded dozens of students onto busses. Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, has asked NYPD to remain on campus for more than two weeks until after the commencement ceremony on May 15th. Student reporters from the university’s radio station, WKCR, covered all of this live. Here’s one of those reporters on Tuesday night’s coverage. 


[clip of unnamed WKCR reporter at Columbia University] This is a moment that is as historically as it is personally important for us as students of Columbia University. And so I think I and many others of my colleagues can be excused for a little bit of our opinions right now. 


Tre’vell Anderson: We will continue following this story. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Justice Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over Trump’s hush money trial in New York City, held a gag order hearing on Tuesday. Merchan found former President Trump in contempt for violating the gag order that banned him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors, and anyone else connected to the hush money trial. According to Merchan’s ruling, Trump violated the order nine times by posting or reposting disparaging comments about witnesses on his campaign website and Truth Social. I am frankly surprised that it is not higher. Merchan fined Trump the maximum penalty of $1,000 per violation totaling $9,000. Potentially just change for this man who is bleeding millions and millions. But it’s something. Merchan also ordered Trump to take down the post in question and threatened him with jail time if he violates the order again. Trump is now closer than ever to the seemingly inevitable collision between his big mouth and the big house. Yeah? No. [laughter] In a devastating blow to reproductive rights, Florida’s six week abortion ban goes into effect today. The state previously allowed abortions for up to 15 weeks, but under the new law, providing an abortion after the six week mark is considered a felony, with limited exceptions for rape and incest. We cannot emphasize enough. Six weeks is so early into a pregnancy that is oftentimes before people even know. Abortion clinics in the state described a chaotic scene on Tuesday, as providers saw as many patients as possible before the law took effect. Some clinics even reported providing double the amount of abortions they typically do in a day. Clinics reported patients booking appointments in April to beat the May 1st deadline, knowing that access to the procedure in the state would become severely limited. And this isn’t just a problem for Florida residents. Restricting access in the state also further restricts abortion in the Deep South, where many states have passed near-total abortion bans. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And there’s new recommended guidelines for women and breast cancer screenings. According to the US Preventive Services Task Force, women should now be screened for breast cancer every other year, starting at age 40. That’s actually lowered from age 50. This recommendation was shared Tuesday by the task force, which found new evidence that breast cancer rates in younger women are rising. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death among those assigned female at birth, according to the American Cancer Society, and Black women are 40% more likely to have a fatal case than white women. But if breast cancer is caught early, it’s also very treatable. This new recommendation is an attempt to address that racial health disparity. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, and I hope people see this. And it requires making those appointments and showing up and doing it. I know no one loves to do it, but please, please do it. You should make those appointments. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, take care of yourself and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading and not just medical studies like me. What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at! I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


[spoken together] And are you on Ozempic? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Listen, I feel like we’re like, very late to this conversation. This is old. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Everybody’s on Ozempic, and you know what? That’s okay. Okay?


Priyanka Aribindi: Precisely. That’s your business. That is fine. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Do whatever you need to do. I don’t care. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Your body, your business. Okay? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Exactly. That is our policy on this podcast. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.