For good reason, many (all?) drug policy reformers were wary of Joe Biden as a presidential candidate as he had a long history of out-of-touch pro-Drug War policy positions throughout his political career, namely the disastrous 1994 Crime Bill that helped usher in an era of mass incarceration. However, Biden seemed to evolve on the campaign trail and, while not nearly good enough, his stance on cannabis was a step in the right direction from previous presidents. With 2/3 of the entire electorate supporting legalization and a supermajority of more than 80% of his own party on board, yes, there’s no reason that President Biden shouldn’t be in favor of legislation to repeal cannabis prohibition, but Reefer Madness can be difficult for some to fully shake. Then-candidate Joe Biden tweeted, “There is a lot of talk out there on where I stand when it comes to our marijuana laws,” including this graphic laying out his “evolved” positions:
Again, there’s really no excuse to oppose ending federal cannabis prohibition, but Biden’s positions do mark an improvement from previous presidents. As advocates, we must always strive towards our ultimate goal, but we can still make note of the positive baby steps along the way. While the Biden White House’s stance on cannabis for government employees is actually an improvement from previous administrations, a bipartisan group of legislators are rightfully demanding that he do better, highlighted by Oregon’s own Earl Blumenauer penning a letter to President Biden signed by 30 members of Congress that stated:
“While we work to deschedule cannabis legislatively, your administration should act within its power to stop legitimizing unfair cannabis laws. You have previously expressed your commitment to decriminalizing cannabis in acknowledgement that a cannabis conviction or even the stigma of cannabis use can ruin lives and prevent people from voting, gaining employment, and contributing to society. You can meet this moment and help end our failed punitive policy of cannabis prohibition.”
The lawmakers added, “The existing policies have been applied in inconsistent and unfair ways. Those in the upper ranks of your administration won’t face consequences for their cannabis use, and nor should they, but the same standard should be applied across the administration. Repercussions for cannabis use have always been unequal and those with the most power have always faced the fewest consequences. We ask that you don’t allow that pattern to continue within your administration.”
Republican David Joyce from Ohio, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, sent his own letter to President Biden, stating:
I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts. Moving forward, I encourage your administration to focus its efforts within cannabis on establishing an effective federal regulatory framework which recognizes that continued cannabis prohibition is neither tenable nor the will of the American electorate. I stand ready and willing to work with you in this regard.
While it often seems like the cannabis community takes a step back each time we take a couple of steps forward, we are definitely making progress and even setbacks provide opportunities to build upon our success. Whether it’s President Biden’s out-of-touch staffer cannabis policy or the ridiculous Reefer Madness nonsense spouted by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, we are presented with opportunities to point out defects with current law and make important steps forward towards true freedom and equality.