Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants President Biden to flex his muscles as commander-in-chief to get cannabis reform and other policy changes done before it’s too late.
The New York Democrat took to Twitter on Monday to urge the president to explore new ways of pushing his agenda through, noting that “time is running out” for Democrats.
“Biden needs to lean on his executive authority now,” she tweeted. “He has been delaying and underutilizing it so far. There is an enormous amount he can do on climate, student debt, immigration, cannabis, health care, and more.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments come on the heels of a major setback for Biden, who watched on Sunday as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) torpedoed the Build Back Better Act, a $2 trillion social spending bill that is a cornerstone of the president’s domestic agenda.
It’s not the first time someone has floated the idea of reforming cannabis laws through executive order. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders pledged to lift cannabis prohibition by executive order on his first day in office. Last fall, more than 150 celebrities – including Drake and Kevin Garnett – signed a letter to Biden asking him to pardon people incarcerated for non-violent cannabis offenses.
Biden needs to lean on his executive authority now. He has been delaying and underutilizing it so far. There is an enormous amount he can do on climate, student debt, immigration, cannabis, health care, and more.
Time is running out – we need to move and use alternative paths.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 20, 2021
In November, a report published by the Congressional Research Service concluded that while Biden doesn’t have the power to legalize cannabis, he could direct federal agencies to deschedule the plant and to back down on enforcement.
“Although the President may not unilaterally deschedule or reschedule a controlled substance, he does possess a large degree of indirect influence over scheduling decisions,” said the report.
Congress saw significant momentum around cannabis reform in 2021, with both chambers and parties taking up legislation on the issue. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) unveiled a sweeping bill to decriminalize the plant at the federal level. A House committee approved legislation to legalize weed and promote social equity. A bill to shield banks from legal repercussions for working with the cannabis industry passed the House for the fifth time. More recently, Republicans filed their own bill to end cannabis prohibition. Ocasio-Cortez herself proposed legislation earlier this month that would give states financial incentives to expunge cannabis-related offenses.
But as 2021 draws to an end, none of those measures have made it to the president’s desk, and their paths forward remain tentative.
Still, advocates in Congress are hopeful federal legalization could happen next year. Last week, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, which is co-chaired by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued a memo outlining the group’s goals and priorities for next year.
At the top of their list is federal descheduling, sentencing reform, promoting social equity measures, expanding cannabis research and preventing the federal government from interfering with state-approved policies.
“This growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people,” the memo said.