Current Democratic nominee frontrunner Joe Biden is decidedly out of step with the rest of the presidential hopefuls. In this article, I want to focus mainly on each candidates’ marijuana legalization plan, but it is also important to take into account each individuals’ track record on cannabis advocacy, and former Vice President Joe Biden’s is a sketchy one.
A profile on Biden published on June 1, 1974 quoted him as firmly saying “I don’t think marijuana should be legalized,” and he’s demonstrated consistency on that stance throughout his career. In an ABC News interview in 2010, Biden raised support for the disproven “marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’” theory, and in as early as 2014 he told Time that while “the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources,” he still doesn’t support cannabis legalization. In 1996, Biden voted in favor of a bill that prohibited federal funds “for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of … the Controlled Substances Act.”
(Photograph by Barbara Hadley)
“He embraced the war on drugs. He seized every opportunity he had. He really leaned into escalating it,” said Michael Collins, the director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action, to Rolling Stone. He went on to refer to Biden as “the architect, in all ways, of the war on drugs.” Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that, “Quite frankly, he seems to be a bit more out of step on this issue than President Trump,” who has voiced support for states’ rights to legalize marijuana.
Former Vice President Biden is calling for the decriminalization of cannabis and expungement of all past pot use convictions as part of a sweeping criminal justice reform plan. Biden’s plan also includes lowering marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug, allowing the government to research it, and putting it in the same category as cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl. “There are a number of negative side effects of cannabis or side effects that we don't fully understand. But he is here saying no one should be in jail because of cannabis use,” said a senior campaign official. Biden would support federal legalization of medicinal marijuana, but would leave recreational legalization up to the states.
Now here’s the thing: When I began writing this, it was originally meant to be a listicle vibe of the current top polling candidates on marijuana legalization, but it started to feel repetitive with essentially all of the other candidates floating in the same boat with hemp sails.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has enough pro-cannabis legislative and advocacy history to fill a RAW Challenge Cone, with particular focus on veterans’ affairs, and is among the biggest supporters in the field. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who hasn’t herself introduced any cannabis bills but has signed onto four pieces of marijuana legislation, has a B grade from NORML, as does Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who received NORML’s Senate campaign endorsement in 2018.
(“There are states that have legalized, whether it’s just medical or full legalization, there has proven to be a direct correlation to a drastic reduction in opioid-related deaths in those states where people have access,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said on the Joe Rogan Experience in Sep. 2018. Joe Rogan | Vimeo)
Julián Castro, having never served in Congress, doesn’t have a federal voting record on marijuana, but his Twitter activity suggests support for legalization. The same goes for Andrew Yang’s and Marianne Williamson’s tweets, both of whom don’t have a history of public office to reference.
Important note, according to Marijuana Movement: “Under his leadership [in President Obama’s cabinet], the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a 2014 memo clarifying that owners of federally assisted housing facilities are required to deny entry to people who use marijuana, even for medical purposes in accordance with state law.”
Sen. Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in 2017, a bill outlining federal legalization and criminal record expungement, co-sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand (B+ grade from NORML) and Kamala Harris.
(Cannabis Business Times)
Sen. Harris in particular has evolved in her stance on cannabis. In 2010, Harris opposed legislation to legalize marijuana in California, which converted to a call to "end the federal ban on medical marijuana" during the Democratic State Convention in 2015. It’s possible that this shift may be due to Harris’ job change. As California’s attorney general, Harris was required to uphold the law, not provide opinions upon it. Sen. Harris also did that thing on The Breakfast Club where she said she “did inhale” marijuana in college and listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac, though their debut albums had not yet dropped. #TimeTravel2020
One of the sole unifying directives of all of the current Democractic nominees is defeating President Donald Trump. As of now, former Vice President Joe Biden appears to have the best odds of doing that in November 2020. What remains to be seen is if Biden will shift further left to appeal to a wider range of Democrats, and in this case in particular, the majority of Americans who support cannabis legalization.
By RJ Blade
RJ Balde is a freelance writer, host, actor, performer, having worked in cannabis writing and advocacy for the last decade. RJ has worked with numerous organizations and media companies in cannabis writing, show hosting, and advocacy, including Airtime, Eaze, SDA Media, TRICHOMES.com, and WeedTube.