Biden’s (Mild) Marijuana “October Surprise”: Good Start. More, Please.

Reefer Madness Poster. Public Domain.
Reefer Madness Poster. Public Domain.

After decades as one of America’s most vicious and uncompromising drug warriors — and three years of promising to become less vicious and more compromising — US president Joe Biden finally took action.

On October 6, he announced pardons for thousands of Americans convicted in federal court of “simple marijuana possession,” urged governors to do likewise at the state level, and ordered a review of the federal “Schedule I” status that, contrary to reality, treats marijuana as a narcotic with “no currently accepted medical use.”

Why now? Well, it’s October of an election year, and Biden’s the kind of politician who keeps simple, easy, popular deliverables in his pocket until he believes they’ll produce positive impacts at the polls for him or his party.

It’s no coincidence that the Democratic Party’s candidates in all five close (even “toss-up”) elections for US Senate (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) support legalizing cannabis. Biden’s move could could conceivably seal the deal with thousands of voters in elections that may come down to recounts.

“October surprises” come in all flavors. The surprise on my part is mild rather than extra hot, but it’s still a welcome move in the right direction, and consistent with Biden’s recent conversion to the position that “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.”

No one should be in jail for growing or selling marijuana either.

Perhaps this move will get a bandwagon rolling toward the day when cannabis is treated like any other common plant — pick a few seedlings up at Walmart, try to remember to water them, and maybe put one on your desk at work.

The devil, unfortunately, is in the details. If the “review” of marijuana’s “scheduling” results in it being removed from that system altogether, good deal. If it locks marijuana up in the Food and Drug Administration’s approval and doctor prescription/permission systems, on the other hand, it could actually be a step backward, wrecking existing freer state regimes on both the medical and recreational fronts.

Nothing short of complete federal legalization — including a “hands off” mandate on the FDA — makes any moral or practical sense.

If you vote, let candidates who support moving in that direction know why you’re supporting them, and candidates who want to keep the war on drugs rolling along why they’re not getting your vote. We can’t count on little “October surprises” to get this job done.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.