There is one issue where President Joe Biden has not moved further left and in lockstep with other liberal leaders: marijuana. The oldest man to take the oath of office — he’s now 78 — just can’t bring himself to support legalization.
On the campaign trail, Biden claimed he wanted to decriminalize it and leave legal questions for states to decide.
But does Biden even want to do that?
As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Biden was the driving force behind the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that, among other things, meted out draconian federal sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
Now that he is in the Oval Office, nothing is happening on the modest federal decriminalization front.
“He at least pledged to decriminalize marijuana possession, expunge records, legalize medical cannabis,” reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act and “let the states do what they want,” Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment told me. “However, since coming into office, so far the only official acts his administration has taken on marijuana were to fire White House employees for having used it” and to try to block the District of Columbia from legalizing and regulating the sale of weed.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon stepped into the breach. They released a “discussion draft” of their Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act that would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and allow states to set their own laws.
States effectively have forced this moment, with 18 having legalized recreational use of pot and 36 states having legalized medical use.
The lack of clarity gives pro-pot people grounds to flout the law and law-and-order types cover to throw offenders behind bars.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently observed that “one can certainly understand why an ordinary person might think that the federal government has retreated from its once-absolute ban on marijuana.”
I spoke with one such person today. I wrote about him years ago after he opened a medical marijuana dispensary in California, where medical marijuana was legal, after then-President Barack Obama pledged to direct federal authorities not to waste tax dollars on marijuana prosecutions.
The Californian went to prison for more than three years because he bought the fiction that states could flout federal drug laws. That only works when politicians rewrite the laws, which Obama failed to do.
So, when Biden says he wants to decriminalize pot, ignore the rhetoric, and wait for action.
If it comes. Washington is running light-years behind public opinion. In April, the Pew Research Center reported that 60% of U.S. adults think marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use.
I suggest anyone who thinks marijuana is all good read what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to say.
Marijuana is harmful to developing brains and affects memory, learning, emotions and reaction time. Edible marijuana products pose an added risk of poisoning. One in six Americans who use marijuana before they turn 18 will become addicted.
Nonetheless, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in America with 22.2 million users each month, according to the CDC. There’s not enough jail space to house all those people.
On Wednesday, two reporters asked press secretary Jen Psaki if the president supports the Schumer bill. Psaki did not look amused. She said Biden’s position hasn’t changed; he’s for decriminalization. She would not say if Biden endorses the measure.
“What does it mean when President Biden says he believes in decriminalizing it?” Angell asked afterward.
Or maybe the question is: Will Biden ever do anything about it?
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