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Are Biden’s cannabis moves for the industry or for the people?

Plus, a new book on psychedelics from Penguin Random House

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Good morning.

Happy Thursday everybody. In today’s newsletter, we take a look at Biden’s cannabis campaign promises kept — and those he failed to keep. We also have a scoop on a new psychedelics book from Penguin Random House.

-JB & JR

This newsletter is 1,107 words or about a 6-minute read.

💡What’s the big deal?

Biden touts cannabis reform on the trail

What happened: President Joe Biden touted his efforts toward cannabis reform at a campaign stop in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

It’s part of his push to win over young voters, upset with his administration’s handling of the war in Gaza and broader concerns about inflation and the economy. 

What they’re saying: “I’m keeping my promises that no one should be in jail merely for possessing or using marijuana,” Biden said

“I pardoned thousands of people incarcerated for mere possession of marijuana. Thousands. A promise made and a promise kept. And their records should be expunged as well, I might add.” 

So, what’s new? Biden has long touted his Administration’s federal cannabis pardons. The expungement piece — which goes much further than a pardon — is new, however, and may signal that Biden is willing to go further when it comes to cannabis criminal justice reform. 

Back up: Biden and his running mate, Vice President Kamala Harris, campaigned on cannabis reform in 2020. 

During a vice presidential debate that year, Harris said explicitly that she and Biden would work to federally decriminalize cannabis and expunge records

Biden also listed removing cannabis from Schedule I to at least Schedule II on his 2020 campaign site and said that he would allow states to continue to choose their own cannabis policies free of federal interference. 

While the rescheduling piece is in motion, federal decriminalization is still likely a long way off. 

Our take: Both Biden and Harris have long made cannabis a criminal justice issue. 

Their efforts on cannabis reform, at least publicly, have been evaluated through that lens. 

But everyone from grassroots cannabis activists to prominent criminal justice experts and reformers say that Biden’s moves on cannabis have had little real-world impact on criminal justice, and will only serve to benefit the companies and financial institutions looking to benefit from legalization. 

To the administration’s credit, it has been active on the issue. Harris held a roundtable in the White House’s famous Roosevelt Room to discuss cannabis reform and criminal justice, where she called federal prohibition “absurd.” 

And most importantly, Biden’s Administration, along with the Department of Justice, have shepherded the rescheduling process which, despite those decrying the move as incremental, is still the biggest change to federal drug policy in half a century

Rescheduling will be a boon to academic and medical researchers looking to study the drug, among other financial benefits for cannabis companies.  

The final word: For what it’s worth, I’m not personally of the opinion that helping normalize the industry — especially reforms that spur job growth, entrepreneurship, and get more smart talented people working in cannabis — is a bad thing, as some advocates have suggested. 

Cannabis companies and workers have long been mistreated by the federal government, and Schedule III is a step toward changing that. It’s also a step toward getting smart young people like my classmates to take the industry seriously, and to help create opportunities for themselves and others. 

As a longtime journalist and student who has given a good chunk of his adult life to cannabis, that’s something I care about deeply. 

But the risks advocates outline are real. Big cannabis companies are perhaps the loudest voices lobbying in Washington. And they’re lobbying to entrench their monopolies and control their profits, not necessarily for the greater good. That’s not evil: It’s what they’re expected to do. They’re corporations with a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. 

It’s also a process that won’t efficiently advance the longstanding goals of social equity and criminal justice reform. Regulatory capture is a real and critical risk at this important moment in federal cannabis policy, and if those policies only serve to benefit a handful of companies, well, that would I guess be the story of American capitalism. But I believe we can do better. 

At the end of the day, rescheduling is undoubtedly a big, positive step for cannabis reform. 

But if Biden is trying to couch his moves in criminal justice terms as an olive branch to progressives in the Democratic Party, he’s going to be left sorely disappointed. 


Penguin Random House will publish an upcoming book on psychedelics

What happened: Penguin Random House, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious publishing houses, is set to publish a new book late next year on psychedelics called “Tripping Point: The Gossamer Guide to Psychedelics.” 

The book will be written by Gossamer co-founders David Weiner and Verena von Pfetten. Weiner and von Pfetten shared details of their forthcoming book exclusively with us. 

Gossamer originally started as a print cannabis magazine based in New York City, billed for “the people who also smoke weed.” Since then, Gossamer has expanded into selling branded cannabis products and lifestyle goods along with the magazine.

What they’re saying: Weiner says the advice they got when they were shopping the book idea around to publishers was that Penguin was perhaps the most “mass and mainstream” and would be unlikely to work with a company born out of the cannabis industry.

“But they’re going all in with us and that’s really exciting,” Weiner said. 

Both Weiner and von Pfetten say that demand for information about psychedelics surged during the pandemic, and they see the normalization of psychedelics as the next step after cannabis.

They say the book will be part coffee table book, part guide book to the world of psychedelics — the culture, the history, the medicine, and everything in between.

Von Pfetten says that Penguin asked them to accelerate their publishing timeline to “meet the moment.”

Why it matters: Cannabis and psychedelics are different, but overlapping industries. Both are predicated on widespread cultural shifts, and the associated development of the political, business, and scientific framework to support those shifts.

Penguin Random House, one of the world’s largest publishing houses, releasing a book on psychedelics is a massive signal that the industry is here to stay — and those that are ahead of the curve will have the advantage. 


Quick hits

John Morgan, an attorney and major Democratic fundraiser in Florida politics — and a longtime cannabis legalization advocate — announced his support for Florida’s upcoming ballot measure to legalize cannabis. The ballot needs 60% to pass. 

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s proposed rule to move cannabis to Schedule III has received over 7,600 comments already, indicating a ton of interest in cannabis policy among voters. Make your voice heard here

A bill that would stall the sales of hemp-derived intoxicating cannabinoids has stalled in the Illinois House. 

Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill that expands access to medical cannabis to seniors and other groups, and allows doctors to make their own determinations for their patients. Previously, Delaware citizens had to have a debilitating medical condition to qualify for a medical card. 

🤓 What we’re reading

🚀 Earnings round-up

Weedmaps released its full-year results for 2023 earlier this week. The cannabis information site’s revenue fell from $215 million in 2022 to $188 million in 2023, and the company lost $15.7 million on the year. Weedmaps also hasn’t held a regular earnings call with investors since last year. 

🛻 People moves

Michelle Reddish, the chief operating officer of Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, has been nominated to lead Rhode Island’s new Cannabis Office.

😜 One fun thing

Rick Steves, the world’s chillest travel guidebook writer and host, with the best tweet we’ve seen in a while. 

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