Will Joe Biden Change His Position On Legalizing Cannabis?
As nationwide protests focus the country's attention on racial issues, marijuana legalization–and how it ties to social justice–is moving to centerstage.
Marijuana legalization is intrinsically tied to social justice.
However, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has maintained his opposition to making cannabis legal. Some hope that could change as more people become aware of the impact that the War on Drugs has had on people of color.
Even as he enjoys an early lead in election polls, people within his own party hope Biden will change his stance. That includes people working on his campaign who have made their support of cannabis legalization public. But any cannabis entrepreneur or investor considering the odds of Biden changing his mind need to look at the full picture of political realities.
First and foremost is the primary vote itself. Despite the fact his opponents took much more progressive stances on marijuana, Biden won.
As Vox noted: “The issue, apparently, wasn’t a major priority for Democratic voters during the primary. Biden still walked away with the most delegates to become the presumptive nominee. With a coronavirus pandemic and recession still underway, perhaps Biden is hoping the same will hold up in the general election, too.”
What, exactly, is Biden’s position on the legalization of cannabis?
It’s easy to feel confused about where Biden stands on making weed legal. His own verbal gaffes are part of the problem. Late last year, he called cannabis a gateway drug, then reversed that position. At one point he said he favored legalization, but later it became apparent he simply misspoke.
Officially, his position is to decriminalize cannabis. That’s already been done in many states. He has said it “makes no sense,” for people to, “go to jail for marijuana.” Biden also wants more research done to find out if cannabis has an impact as he says, “long term on the development of the brain.”
But outside of gaffes, he stops far short of calling for making cannabis federally legal.
Despite his current position, there are many reasons for Biden to support legalization.
Primary voting aside, there are many reasons for Biden to change his stance. They include the following:
Most of Biden’s opponents in the Democratic primary favored legalization. Sen. Bernie Sanders even went as far as to vow that he would legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office via executive order, and he finished second behind Biden in the voting. Sen. Cory Booker filed a legalization bill backed by most candidates, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. Biden has put the latter two on his shortlist for Vice President candidates.
The American people support legalization. The last two surveys from Gallup, in the fall of 2019 and 2018, found support for legalization at 66 percent. That number stood at just 16 percent in 1973, the year Biden first became a U.S. senator. The Pew Research Center reported in 2019 that 67 percent of Americans support legalization.
Members of his own task force support legalization. Sanders and Biden formed working groups to find compromises on their often far apart positions. The criminal justice task force includes former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and former federal prosecutor Chiraag Bains. Both favor making weed legal at the federal level. They both also tie the issue to social justice.
It’s a social justice issue. The numbers on the disparity in how drug laws are enforced between black and white people are horrific. A black person is, on average, 3.6 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Given that black voters in South Carolina essentially saved his campaign in the primary, many feel Biden should give this issue far more attention.