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Flanked by Fat Joe, Harris urges DEA to 'get to it' on its marijuana review

Vice President Harris speaks at a roundtable on marijuana reform that included rapper Fat Joe and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.
Kent Nishimura
AFP via Getty Images
Vice President Harris speaks at a roundtable on marijuana reform that included rapper Fat Joe and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

Vice President Harris on Friday urged the Drug Enforcement Administration to work as quickly as possible on its review of whether to reschedule marijuana as a less-dangerous drug.

Harris made her comments during a roundtable conversation about marijuana reform with rapper Fat Joe, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, and several people who have received pardons for prior marijuana convictions.

"Nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed," Harris said, framing the issue of marijuana reform as a criminal justice issue that disproportionately hurts Black and Latino men.

This was a campaign promise from 2019

During his 2019 campaign, Biden pledged he would decriminalize marijuana and expunge prior convictions for pot use. He said he would support legalization for medical use — but leave decisions about recreational use up to the states.

Biden has pardoned people convicted of simple possession under federal law and D.C. statute — though the vast majority of convictions happen at the state level. Harris praised Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear for addressing the issue in his state, and encouraged other states to follow his lead.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug — as dangerous as heroin — which Harris called "absurd" and "unfair." During his campaign, Biden said he would reschedule it.

In 2022, weeks before the midterm elections, Biden announced that he had asked Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review that classification. HHS finished its part of the review last year, but the DEA has not.

"I cannot emphasize enough that they need to get to it as quickly as possible, and we need to have a resolution based on their findings and their assessment," Harris said on Friday.

Biden mentioned the issue in his State of the Union address

Biden mentioned marijuana reform in his State of the Union address, saying "No one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana."

The issue polls particularly well with young voters — a demographic that has become less enthused about Biden especially over the way he has handled Israel's war in Gaza.

Marijuana reform also came up this week in Milwaukee, when Biden toured his party's campaign headquarters for Wisconsin. One supporter held up a sign praising Biden for his mention of the issue in the State of the Union.

"I'm taking care of that," Biden said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.