Follow us
Featured Medical Cannabis Opinion Policy

Biden & Marijuana: This Juneteenth – All Talk, No New Action

Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday
Written by Sarah Friedman

For Juneteenth, 2023, Biden made a speech in which he mentioned marijuana reform several times. But stated no new policy update

It’s super great to have a politician talk about getting something done. What’s more impressive? Actually getting the job done. Beyond a minor step forward last year with pardons, the Biden administration has done nothing else it can point to this Juneteenth.

This article is the opinion of the author concerning the most recent Juneteenth, and statements made by the president about marijuana reform.

What is Juneteenth?

Apparently an actual federal holiday; although I was not aware of it until writing this article. Officially called Juneteenth National Independence Day, the holiday started in an official capacity in 2021. More and more locations are giving a day off work to celebrate it, so if you’re slow with the pick up like me, you’re likely to remember it in the future. Plus, it comes with a Juneteenth presidential speech, with a lot of focus this particular year, on marijuana.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of African Americans from enslavement in the US. The day it celebrates is June 19th, 1865, which is the anniversary of an order made by Major General Gordon Granger, specifically to free enslaved people in Texas. This actually came over two years after the emancipation proclamation, which was also meant to free slaves by changing their legal status. This one was issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

Celebrating Juneteenth isn’t a new thing, it just wasn’t done on a national level until 2021. Prior to that, it was celebrated in Texas, and various other parts of the US; mostly as a holiday to celebrate African American culture and heritage. The practice of celebrating goes back to 1866, and started as church-type get-togethers. In the early-mid 1900’s, the day became more commercialized, with bigger festivities and tons of food. It was less a thing during the civil rights movement of the 60’s, when the climate was more about social change than celebration. But, it came back as a cultural holiday with more force in the 1970’s.

Juneteenth celebrates freedom from slavery
Juneteenth celebrates freedom from slavery

In 2021, Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, making it into a federally recognized holiday. It is the newest federal holiday to join the ranks, since Martin Luther King Day, which became a federally recognized holiday in 1983. As a holiday that only just began on a federal level, it doesn’t have much history of celebration on a big scale. As of yet its celebrated locally; with fairs, reunions, parties, and the like.

Do Juneteenth and marijuana go together?

When Biden gave his Juneteenth speech this year, it involved a lot about marijuana. But, not the kind of talk that actually goes anywhere; unless you like politicians repeatedly patting themselves on the back for minor accomplishments. That’s essentially what happened.

How do the two go together? Why would it matter what’s said about marijuana on Juneteenth; a holiday commemorating the freedom of slaves? Technically, they are unrelated; but with a major point of overlap. Juneteenth is about a positive change in history that promotes general freedom. Marijuana reform relates to the loosening of laws around the possession, and use of marijuana. The common ground is in how racially abusive marijuana laws are to African Americans; and have been, since the onset of prohibition.

In fact, the idea of the racial aspect of it (also quite applicable to the Mexican population), has been a big motivator in creating social equity legislation specifically geared toward helping out the populations most hurt by drug policy. Almost every legalized location, for example, has some provision for allowing certain populations first entrance into the business.

Marijuana reform is center stage at the moment, and so are ideas of racial inequality. So perhaps it makes sense that this Juneteenth, Biden put them together. However, he said nothing about a full legalization. In fact, though he brought up marijuana several times during his speech, he actually said nothing new. He just kept mentioning something that was already done; while ignoring the contradiction of the action. I’ll get there soon.

Biden statements about marijuana reform on Juneteenth

Basically, Biden’s main thing, is that he made pardons last year. On October 6th, 2022, following in line with promises made, Biden pardoned all federal simple possession cases for marijuana. This goes for only simple possession charges, and doesn’t relate to heavier charges, or anything outside the realm of marijuana.

Biden mentioned previous marijuana pardons on Juneteenth
Biden mentioned previous marijuana pardons on Juneteenth

At the time, Biden said: “No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana… It’s legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

Perhaps you can see why it came up for Juneteenth. It’s understood that marijuana laws have been disproportionately bad for the black community. So much so that it can’t be lied about anymore, or swept under the rug. Biden likes bringing up these pardons every chance he gets.

It was mentioned on this year’s Martin Luther King Day, and again at the end of Black History month in February. It even came up in a May executive order about equity within the federal government. Biden really likes taking any opportunity to mention it. What he doesn’t like talking about, is the implication.

Lack of further action related to marijuana on Juneteenth

The pardon is a good thing, right? And its good to have the president formally make the statement he made. But…nothing else changed, and that’s problematic. Marijuana was not legalized, it wasn’t even decriminalized on a federal level. And this comes with an implication that undoes any good of the pardon. It was never ordered to law enforcement, to make marijuana (especially simple possession) a low priority.

Get where I’m going? People can still be arrested. People can still be charged fines. No one was released from prison due to pardons, because no one was in prison for minor weed crimes. So its not really a win, and the emotion-play of releasing people from prison, is only that. Biden said no one should sit in jail, but no one was. And he didn’t mention money. Money is still taken in fines for these crimes, like it always has been. Should we expect it’s a different population of people who get arrested for such crimes now?

It doesn’t get mentioned this way as often as it should; that there was a pardon for something which people still get arrested for. Regardless of Biden’s words, that still happens and people are charged the same amount of money. I don’t see how that helps the communities hit hardest, that arrests and fines continue. Kind of seems like all measures taken are about optics, with no substantial change.

Biden spoke about marijuana reform on Juneteenth
Biden spoke about marijuana reform on Juneteenth

There’s another thing to consider. That whole equity issue. It’s meant to help people from areas hit hardest by the drug war. But that too seems more about optics. The cannabis industry is barely survivable for those with means. How often can a person coming from a disadvantaged background, be able to take advantage of an equity program that still requires them to have capital, and money for legal fees, and the ability to pay to meet expensive regulation standards? It’s great to put someone at the front of the line, but what if you don’t give them the means to open the door?

The pardon implicates something is coming. Otherwise, that contradiction I just stated could get pretty bad for the government. I mean, what would you do if you got arrested for a crime everyone else just got pardoned for? Seems like reason for a lawsuit in and of itself… There are a lot of news stories about lowered cannabis arrests in 2022 by about 24%, but no information on what the arrests made were for, and how many occurred after the pardons. The number should be 0 for simple possession; but I wouldn’t bet on that.

The US Department of Health and Human Services is tasked with investigating the topic of marijuana legalization. And despite the fact we got to the level of a pardon, this investigation is back several steps; trying to ascertain if marijuana should be removed from the Controlled Substances list at all. As in, the government isn’t sure it wants to stop considering marijuana a Schedule I substance. Which makes the pardons seem like nothing more than a publicity stunt.


Biden didn’t say anything new this Juneteenth about marijuana. Just tried to pat himself on the back for helping minorities through last year’s pardons; with apparently no realistic thought given to the fact that people are still arrested today. Or, that those most likely to get arrested, are the ones from the very communities that Biden claimed he was helping on Juneteenth.

Welcome readers, cool that you’re here. Thanks for making your way to; an independent news spot geared toward the burgeoning cannabis and hallucinogen spaces. Come around often to get the updates; and subscribe to the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter, for access to awesome product promos as well.

Have anything to add? Your voice matters! Join the conversation and contribute your insights and ideas below.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.