April 23rd, 2024

Vice President Harris, rapper Fat Joe team up for discussion on easing marijuana penalties

By Darlene Superville, The Associated Press on March 15, 2024.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks as she meets with voting rights leaders, in the Indian Treaty Room, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris and rapper Fat Joe led a White House discussion Friday on easing marijuana penalties, with Harris saying it’s “absurd” that the federal government classifies marijuana as more dangerous than fentanyl, the synthetic opioid blamed for tens of thousands of deaths annually the United States.

Harris, a former state prosecutor in California, also criticized the federal classification of cannabis as “patently unfair.” The government currently is reviewing how it classifies marijuana, and Harris urged that the process be wrapped up as quickly as possible.

Fat Joe, a Grammy-nominated artist and philanthropist whose real name is Joseph Cartagena, moderated a subsequent closed-door discussion that included Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and individuals who received pardons for prior marijuana convictions.

President Joe Biden has issued pardons to thousands of people for federal marijuana possession and commuted long sentences handed down for nonviolent drug offenses. In 2022, he urged governors to pardon state offenses. Beshear then invited people convicted of simple marijuana possession to apply for pardons in Kentucky. Biden launched the process to review how marijuana is classified in 2022.

A full seven in 10 U.S. adults favor legalizing marijuana, according to Gallup polling. Support for legalization is closer to eight in 10 among 18- to 34-year-olds, a demographic whose support for Biden, who is seeking reelection, has softened since he took office.

“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 of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Justice, which are handling the review.

“But this issue is stark when one considers the fact that on the schedule currently marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin,” she said during the public portion of the meeting. “Marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl, which is absurd. Not to mention patently unfair.”

“So I’m sure DEA is working as quickly as possible and will continue to do so and we look forward to the product of their work,” the vice president said, referring to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid blamed for tens of thousands of deaths annually in America.

U.S. regulators are studying reclassifying marijuana shifting it from a drug that has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” known as “Schedule I,” to the less tightly regulated “Schedule III.”

Biden mentioned the marijuana classification review during his State of the Union address earlier this month. He said during a campaign appearance in Milwaukee this week that “no one should be jailed for marijuana.”

“If you’re just using, you should have that wiped off your record,” Biden said.

Cartagena opened the roundtable by saying he’s hot on the issue of price transparency in health care “but, today, when the vice president calls me, I stop everything.”

He got a little ahead of himself when he proceeded to dismiss journalists so the closed-door discussion could begin, prompting Harris to tell him to “hold on” because she had a statement to make, too.

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