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Biden administration hopes for pot luck election boost

By LI YANG | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-22 08:22

US President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, US, May 15, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Various illegal drugs are popular among the youth population in the United States, and 22 people aged 14-18 are killed every week in the country due to drug abuse. More than 100,000 people die from drug abuse in the US every year.

Yet the United States Justice Department on Thursday proposed a historic shift in US drug policy recommending reclassifying marijuana, which is generally viewed as a less harmful starter drug. A proposed rule sent to the federal register recognizes the medical uses of cannabis and acknowledges it has less potential for abuse than some of the nation's most dangerous drugs, according to a report of the Associated Press.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration will next take public comments on the proposal in a potentially lengthy process. If approved, the rule would move marijuana away from its current classification as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide, a potent psychedelic drug. Marijuana would instead become a Schedule III substance, alongside some anabolic steroids.

"This is monumental," US President Joe Biden said in a video statement, calling it an important move toward reversing long-standing inequities and a tectonic shift away from the failed policies of the last 50 years. "Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I'm committed to righting those wrongs."

However, the main reason the Justice Department cited to justify its approval of the proposed change is not because the harm of marijuana abuse has been proved lighter than 50 years ago, but rather that although the available data show marijuana "is associated with a high prevalence of abuse", that potential is more in line with other Schedule III substances.

The move should be attributed to the Biden administration's political needs rather than any scientific evidence or the requirements of public health. Proposing the "historic" shift at this moment is nothing but Biden's latest move to woo young voters. Biden has made that crystal clear by making moves to pardon thousands of people convicted federally of possession of marijuana. He has also called on governors and local leaders to take similar steps to erase such convictions.

Critics of the move argue the DEA shouldn't change course on marijuana, saying the rescheduling isn't necessary and could lead to harmful side effects. Public health policymakers have warned that there isn't enough data to support classifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug. Some US media have suggested that politicians in Washington are just pushing the envelope by giving the green light to marijuana abuse.

In order to promote pharmacies to sell drugs quickly, opioid manufacturers and distributors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to "blaze the trail", which is even more than the PR spending of the US gun lobby during the same period of time. The rescheduling of marijuana will also trigger a similar chain reaction as easing the federal regulations could reduce the tax burden, that can be 70 percent or more, for marijuana businesses, according to industry groups.

US politicians receiving large amounts of political donations from pharmaceutical companies will naturally turn a blind eye to the potential collateral damage when formulating relevant drug control policies.

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