How cannabis-friendly is Biden’s new authorities? Half 2: Xavier Becerras DOH

President Joe Biden’s cabinet takes shape. Those specifically appointed to the positions of Attorney General (AG) and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have the authority to essentially legalize marijuana at the federal level.

The CSA grants the AG and the DHHS secretary the opportunity to remove a substance from a certain schedule. The attorney general delegates his powers to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the DHHS secretary delegates his powers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The CSA assigns substances to specific schedules based on their exposure to society, with Appendix I reserved for the most dangerous drugs. Marijuana is a List I substance alongside heroin and meth.

This is the second post in a two-part series. (Read part one here.) Today we take a look at Biden’s selection for DHHS Secretary, the current head of the FDA.


Xavier Becerra was the state attorney general for the state of California before he was selected by Biden to lead the DHHS. Becerra has strong credentials showing its support for marijuana reform. When Jeff Sessions overturned the Cole Memo in January 2018, Xavier Becerra criticized the move and vowed to uphold California law regarding marijuana. Becerra’s office was on the side of a licensed marijuana business in its lawsuit against Santa Cruz County for supplying marijuana. However, Becerra also oversaw a major extermination drive for the sale of illegal marijuana in California, which was praised by California police. Becerra has shown that he is ready to stand up for and enforce California marijuana laws.

RELATED: How Cannabis-Friendly Is Biden’s New Administration? Part 1: Merrick Garlands DOJ

In 2017, Becerra told the LA Times that the federal government had to “catch up” on the cannabis law. Becerra is now able to do just that.

FDA Assistant Commissioner: JANET WOODCOCK, MD

Dr. Janet Woodcock is the acting FDA commissioner. According to Politico, the Biden government is considering Dr. Woodcock as the front runner for the permanent appointment of the commissioner. Dr. Woodcock joined the FDA in the 1980s and served with the agency for decades. Much of her time was focused on the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). Your story with CDER has become a point of contention. The Guardian reports that 28 groups fighting the U.S. opioid epidemic have written a letter to President Biden asking him to appoint a standing commissioner who will take Dr. Woodcock is supposed to replace because she oversaw the CDER and advocated drugs that developed opioids that led to the pandemic.

Xavier Becerra speaks as California Governor Gavin Newsom watches / Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Dr. Woodcock also addressed at least one cannabis issue during her time with the FDA. In July 2018, Tom Angell reported for Forbes that the FDA had denied a motion by an anti-legalization group, Drug Watch International, to put marijuana and its derivatives on a restrictive substance list. Dr. Woodcock wrote a letter to Drug Watch International stating the move was “not necessary to protect public health”. The rejection does not mean that Dr. Woodcock, the CDER, or the FDA advocated legalizing marijuana. Instead, Dr. Woodcock’s letter pointed to the laws and regulations already in place that might prevent the sale of marijuana for use as a drug, which means that Drug Watch International’s concerns have already been adequately addressed.

RELATED: Marijuana Could Easily Be Moved With Biden’s Minister of Health

Another potential candidate for the FDA standing commissioner is Dr. Amy Abernethy. Dr. Abernathy led the FDA’s working group on the regulation of cannabidiol from hemp. Dr. Abernethy is probably one of the most well-informed people at the FDA on cannabis-related issues, but he also bears part of the responsibility for not providing a legal framework for CBD products. With that in mind, the White House Bureau of Administration and Housekeeping recently withdrew the FDA’s proposed enforcement policy for CBD before that policy was ever published. Hemp Industry Daily reports that this was the result of a memo from Biden urging all federal agencies to withdraw pending rules and guidelines.

Whoever heads the FDA next will have a lot on their plate as the agency continues to focus on COVID-19. Neither Dr. Woodcock nor Dr. Abernathy appear to be in support of the removal of marijuana from the CSA, but whoever is appointed will report to Becerra on what may be moving FDA’s cannabis policy in the right direction.

Daniel Shortt is a Seattle, Washington-based corporate and regulatory attorney who works extensively with entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. This article originally appeared in the Green Light Law Group and was republished with permission. You can contact Daniel at info or (206) 430-1336.

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