What to Expect from President Biden’s Cabinet on Cannabis

We’ve highlighted four names from the group President Biden has chosen to shape federal policy under his administration and analyzed what each of their selections might mean for cannabis.

The new administration has been sworn in, the Senate gavel has been passed to the Democrats, and the country’s leadership is almost fully set. One major step remains: the Cabinet nomination and approval process.

As we saw from the previous administration, Cabinet members can have a massive impact on the direction of the country, especially as it relates to cannabis policy. With a thin Democratic majority in Congress and a longtime moderate in the White House, the battle for fair cannabis laws is far from over.

Advocates are now looking to Biden’s Cabinet for clues on how the incoming administration will handle cannabis laws. Like the president they’ll be working under, the group doesn’t have a strong positive or negative stance on the plant. But taking a closer look at the previous records of the cabinet members announced so far can provide clues as to what we can expect from the incoming executive branch on cannabis laws.  

Attorney General: Merrick Garland

Before 2021, Garland was best known for being President Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court of the United States in 2016. After his Senate hearing was blocked by Republicans, Garland became an early symbol of the kind of Trump-era partisanship that still divides the country today. It appears Garland will get the chance to serve at the highest level of the federal government, but in a different branch: Biden announced his nomination as AG in the first week of January.

Garland, a Democrat who served as Washington, D.C.’s chief judge from 2013 to 2020, hasn’t come out directly against or in favor of cannabis. The closest definitive opinion was in 2013, when the industry trade group Americans for Safe Access sued the Drug Enforcement Administration in an effort to remove cannabis from Schedule I. Garland was one of three D.C. federal judges who ruled in favor of the DEA, on the grounds that they were the ones who had done the research. “We’re not the scientists. They are,” he said during the case’s 2012 hearing.

During his 2016 Supreme Court nomination, some in the media believed his respect for science would lead him to be an ally to the industry—or at least not a direct foe like Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Given the major legislative achievements that have occurred since his SCOTUS nomination, it’s hard to see Garland presiding over a strongly anti-cannabis Department of Justice. 

Health and Human Services Secretary: Xavier Becerra

Becerra succeeded now-Vice President Kamala Harris as California attorney general in 2017, after Harris was elected to the Senate. He offers a mixed bag on cannabis as the Golden State’s top cop: As recently as October 2020, his California Department of Justice was putting out press releases touting the destruction of over 1 million marijuana plants and talking about the dangers of illegal grow operations. His office frequently mentions the

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