Regardless of what side of the political fence you’re on, there is one thing everyone can agree on: Republicans are more conservative, and Democrats are more liberal – especially when it comes to progressive drug policies. And while this statement rings true almost 100% of the time, the exact opposite applies to our current president, Joe Biden.
While Biden has made many cannabis-related promises along the campaign trail and during his time in office, and he has supported a handful of modest reform proposals, the White House has made it very clear that his overall position on adult-use legalization has not changed over the years: he is NOT in favor. And this is despite overwhelming support for progressive policy change among voters in his party.
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Biden’s daughter-in-law shops for weed with secret service detail
In the most recent Biden-cannabis drama, it was reported last month by the Daily Mail that Melissa Cohen, wife of Hunter Biden and the president’s daughter-in-law, was seen leaving a Malibu-based dispensary called 99 High Tide, and she was carrying a “small unidentified purchase”. Additionally, it was noted that following Cohen was a plain-clothed secret service agent.
Although cannabis is recreationally legal in California and many other states, it’s still federally prohibited… and that’s not exactly where the issue lies anyway. The real problem here, is the idea of using a federally funded secret service to protect one of Biden’s relatives during a pot transaction, while tens of thousands of people remain behind bars for past nonviolent possession charges.
In giving the benefit of the doubt, it’s plausible that Cohen was in the store buying one of their few high-CBD products – which are federally legal. However, while searching through their online menu, I found only one product that fit the bill; the rest of their “CBD products” contained various ratios of THC and CBD, all of which resulted in more than 0.3% THC, and thus, more than the federally legal limit. So, while there is a slight possibility that Cohen was buying CBD products at a recreational cannabis dispensary, it’s highly unlikely.
It’s also worth noting that the Daily Mail’s claim of Cohen having a secret service agent in tow could not be independently verified, as the White House would not respond to questions from the various news sources who have reached out for comments.
White house staffers fired for admitting to past cannabis use
Last spring it was reported through various news outlets that “dozens of young White House staffers, freshly hired were abruptly told to quit, were suspended from their jobs, or otherwise punished “due to past marijuana use.” This happened after the staffers personally admitted to having used cannabis in the past on security clearance application forms. It’s worth noting that cannabis has been legal for adults 21 and older in Washington D.C. since 2015.
The firings and suspensions fly in the face of the more progressive appearance that the White House is trying to present, and their new policies. In February (one month before this incident), the White House Office of Personnel Management stated that past cannabis use was no longer an automatic employment disqualifier, and that federal agencies “should exercise special care before making a determination of unsuitability” in such circumstances.
Whether the staffers’ cannabis use was recreational or medical, legal or illegal, was never made clear. Of the few staffers who commented, under anonymity, the general consensus was that it would not have mattered either way. “The policies were never explained, the threshold for what was excusable and what was inexcusable was never explained,” mentioned one former employee.
The reason why cannabis is considered a “national security risk” or a disqualifier for federal employment, also remains unclear. Both the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and NSA (National Security Agency) have recently updated their policies on past cannabis use, claiming that it was difficult to find hackers and cybersecurity experts with clean drug records.
Biden’s sketchy history with drug reform
He’s made improvements over the years, but as his documented history shows us, there were very few D.C. lawmakers who were tougher on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s than Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. During the entirety of those 2 decades, Biden was a prominent figure in the War on Drugs and was responsible for unjustly imprisoning tens of thousands of Americans – many of which were minority or low-income individuals – on trumped up drug charges, including thousands for cannabis.
Specifically, Biden introduced numerous bills with that would implement harsh penalties for those convicted of producing and distributing federally prohibited, or schedule 1, narcotics. These bills called for increased severity in dealing with first offenders, as well as longer prison sentences for all. One specific piece of legislature that comes to mind is the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which sounds good but unfortunately played a key role in mass incarcerations for drug offenses, even many who were not involved in violent crimes.
Biden’s stance never really changed, with him quoted making anti-cannabis comments as recently as 2010. “There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces [of marijuana] and legalizing it,” Biden stated in an ABC News Interview. “The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug.”
However, Biden claims that his views on marijuana have improved lately – but he can say whatever he wants, his actions, however, raise questions. Knowing that Americans want cannabis legalized and available to them, Biden completely changed his tune come January 2019. “There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces [of marijuana] and legalizing it. The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug,” Biden claimed.
A few months later, while speaking with New Hampshire voters in May 2019, Biden commented that, “Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.” He laid out a ‘plan’ for decriminalizing marijuana, if elected, and automatically expunging existing criminal records for possession by reclassifying cannabis to a Schedule II substance (it is currently a Schedule I, reserved for drugs with the highest potential for abuse and addiction).
And in his last 2 years as president, he has acted on exactly zero of his cannabis-related promises. Cannabis is still not federally legal, or even decriminalized, people are still getting in trouble for it in prohibition states, and many are still serving prison time for old cannabis charges in states that have recently legalized. So again, his actions show much less support than he likes to claim.
In one of his latest moves, he suggested forced rehabilitation for anyone caught with drugs. According to President Biden, “nobody convicted of a drug crime should go to prison, they should go to mandatory rehabilitation,” he emphasized at a campaign event in Kenosha, Wisconsin late last year. “Instead of building more prisons… we [should] build rehabilitation centers.” And while I completely agree with the first half of the statement, the idea of putting a cannabis user in rehab, just sounds completely asinine. Although it seems that he’s trying (a little bit), at best, he’s just very out of touch with what modern day drug policy should look like, and what his voters are asking for.
And Vice President Kamala Harris is not much better, claiming to support legalization and even bragging about having smoked in the past, but her resume says otherwise. During her career as San Francisco district attorney, Harris oversaw roughly 1,900 marijuana convictions (1,500 of which were African American males, for the record). NORML executive director Erik Altieri describes her history on drug reform has been “problematic,” and her “record is not one anyone would qualify as progressive, particularly when it comes to marijuana.”
Biden pardons a few cannabis offenders
And when I say “a few”, I truly mean that. More specifically, he pardoned 3 people and commuted the sentences of 78 offenders, out of the estimated 40,000 people who remain locked up on weed charges. Before getting further into the details, let’s quickly go over the difference between pardons and commuted sentences A pardon completely removes the conviction as if it never happened, so the person’s record is clear, whereas a commuted sentence still stands but the punishment is reduced or completely revoked.
The news of the pardons and commuted sentences were announced on Tuesday, April 25th of this year. All of the pardoned offenders had been previously released to serve time in their homes during the pandemic, a privilege that was granted to a total of 8.300 inmates because of COVID-related issues and prison overcrowding. One of the pardons given, and eight of the commuted sentences, were related to cannabis.
Now, it’s important to note that this was not part of some cannabis-related project or anything special that Biden was doing. These pardons and commuted sentences were done in clemency grants as part of Biden’s first year in office – and this is standard for ALL presidents during their first year. Call it a presidential ‘get out of jail free’ card, if you will, but regardless, it had nothing to do with commuting the sentences of cannabis users specifically, even though some of the offenders who got pardoned and commuted were convicted of non-violent marijuana crimes.
New cannabis legalization bill from Chuck Schumer
The reason this matters (well, it always matters, but the reason it’s more relevant now) is because a new decriminalization bill was introduced by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Thursday, July 21st. The bill isn’t exactly new, Schumer has been working on it for years, waiting for the right time to make it official.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would effectively decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, but would allow individual states to regulate it as they see fit. So, some states can still choose to keep it illegal, although that seems unlikely. That said, it’s hard to say how likely it is that this bill will even pass at all. Yes, Schumer circulated the bill around for the last few months getting feedback for how to make it foolproof, but there are still a few major potential obstacles in the way.
First, we have the Senate. Although legalization/decriminalization bills have passed the House of Representatives, they have all died when reaching the Senate for a vote. Beyond the Senate, the main concern here is Biden. Should the bill make it his desk, will he off on it? He claims to support decriminalization (hopefully more so now that we all know his daughter-in-law shops at dispensaries), but his history, as well as his areas of focus while in office, say otherwise.
In all fairness, it’s not surprising to see an old man stuck in such dated ways. It’s reminiscent of many of our own grandparents who just won’t get with the times. But a politician should be more in touch with what the general population wants, and data from Politico consistently shows that roughly 70% of Americans want cannabis legalized. With this new bill in the works, it’s very possible that the ball will soon be in Biden’s court – and it will be interesting to see what he does with it.
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