Former Vice President and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden has recently announced that he supports cannabis decriminalization — a welcome change from his previous stance on pot, but a far cry from the depth of cannabis reform that's needed for the future.
At a recent campaign stop this week, Biden told voters that “nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana,” CNN reports. Although this statement may have briefly convinced voters that the former VP was now willing to take a progressive stance on drug reform, his staff quickly confirmed that Biden's actual stance on legal weed is, in fact, more conservative in nature.
Biden's campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told CNN that "Vice President Biden does not believe anyone should be in jail simply for smoking or possessing marijuana. He supports decriminalizing marijuana and automatically expunging prior criminal records for marijuana possession, so those affected don't have to figure out how to petition for it or pay for a lawyer.”
"He would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization and would seek to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana's positive and negative health impacts by rescheduling it as a Schedule II drug," Bates added. This reclassification would group cannabis with dangerous and addictive drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, which do have accepted medical uses but are still highly restricted.
Biden's track record as a drug policy maker showcases his conservative, traditional opinions about cannabis. During his stint as VP, Biden did not support cannabis decriminalization or legalization, even though a growing number of states began legalizing medical or recreational marijuana at the time. And during his former term as a senator for Delaware, Biden helped design some of the country’s strictest anti-drug laws. Even as recently as last month, he applauded an anti-medical marijuana speech at an opioid conference.
The candidate's new statement does mark a more progressive policy shift, but his unwillingness to fully commit leaves one to wonder if he is merely hoping to win support of liberal cannabis advocates while also attracting older conservatives who still believe that legal weed will kick off a new era of Reefer Madness.
“While Biden’s latest comments on marijuana represent an evolution away from the stronger prohibitionist comments he made in the past, they are far too timid to truly address the issue at hand and still leave him lagging far behind his fellow primary competitors, many of whom are true leaders on ending our nation’s failed prohibition,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.
“Democratic primary voters in particular have demonstrated they want someone who will provide a progressive and bold vision for attacking the problem of mass incarceration being driven in no small part by the over 600,000 marijuana arrests made annually,” Altieri continued. “Biden’s new comments illustrate a lack of vision and seriousness of approach that would be more at home a decade ago than in 2019. Joe: Do better.”
Michael Collins, director of national affairs for Drug Policy Action, concurred with Altieri's assessment. “It’s not enough to casually support marijuana decriminalization. That’s a 2008 position.”