Analyzing The Biden Administration’s 2020 Cannabis Policy

by Andrew Ward

As the Presidential election heads into the home stretch, each candidate has taken steps to clarify and delineate their crucial policy platforms. Neither Joe Biden nor President Donald Trump seems to view cannabis legalization as an issue worth pursuing. 

That said, Biden has shown his support for reform in some capacity. Meanwhile, Vice President candidate Kamala Harris presents her own intrigue on the matter. 

What Joe Biden & His Camp Say About Cannabis Reform 

Joe Biden has never been one to support marijuana in any form. However, he recently indicated he is warming to the subject. Yet, his pace is not appeasing much of the cannabis community. 

Throughout his decades of public service, Biden has been a leader in tough-on-crime policy legislation, including the war on drugs. In 2019, Vox‘s German Lopez highlighted some of Biden’s past anti-drug statements, including a 1989 instance where the then-Senator criticized President George H.W. Bush’s drug plan. Instead of voicing concerns with overreaching or unjust measures, Biden chided the elder Bush President not to be expansive or tough enough. 

At the time, Biden stated that Bush’s plan “doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough prison cells to put them away for a long time.” 

Biden would also author legislation adding to the drug war, which included a 1984 expansion on drug trafficking penalties and civil forfeiture. The ’80s would see Biden write other anti-drug bills, capped off by Biden’s authoring of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which is cited as a major growth factor of America’s prison system. 

In recent years, Biden has acknowledged his missteps in legislating crime. Some accept the apology, citing America’s then-love of tough-on-crime policy that reached across the aisle. That said, an acknowledgment of the past is not enough for many, particularly those who spent years incarcerated for minor crimes, as well as those experiencing the ongoing effects of the drug war. 

Policy Stances In 2020

The Biden 2020 website features an in-depth look at a range of issues the candidate is campaigning on. The candidate’s policy on America’s commitment to justice includes the decriminalization and automatic expungement stance Biden has reiterated.

“Biden believes no one should be in jail because of cannabis use,” stated the website. “As president, he will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions. And, he will support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, leave decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, and reschedule cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.”

The policy and Biden’s past became a lightning rod during the Democratic primaries in 2019, which included tense interactions between Biden and Sen. Cory Booker and future running mate Sen. Kamala Harris. 

The criticism would continue after winning the nomination. After securing the role, Biden teamed with progressive leader Bernie Sanders and others to develop a unified policy for the party. In all, marijuana reform was dropped from the platform.

The stance was doubled down upon with September remarks where Biden called for mandatory rehab stays, not prison sentences, for those charged with drug crimes such as possession. Those that complete rehab under the Biden plan would see the charge taken off their record. However, Biden did not specify if marijuana would be considered a drug or if it would be reclassified. 

The decisions are sure to upset many pro-cannabis advocates. However, with most Biden supporters likely dead set on voting against Trump, cannabis is not a prime target for the Biden campaign. Instead, the focus may be on culling swaths of typically Republican and conservative-leaning Independent voters. And while much of America supports cannabis, there are many swing voters, who, like Biden, remain unconvinced. Whether genuine or not, his lukewarm stance could help sway voters seeking a more moderate choice in November.

How Does Sen. Kamala Harris Impact Federal Marijuana Policy?

Speculation has swirled how Sen. Kamala Harris could impact the Biden campaign’s policy during election season and beyond. Harris herself is not regarded so highly in many cannabis circles either. The Senator has come out in support of pro-cannabis measures while campaigning for the nomination. However, Harris hasn’t always been such a supporter

As California’s Attorney General, Harris took a rather by-the-book stance on cannabis, including her opposition to legalization bill Proposition 19. Her resistance was clarified by her camp, who deemed the measure a “flawed public policy.” Harris would support medical cannabis by 2011. However, her opposition to adult use legalization, which included laughing at the prospect, did lose Harris a good deal of support in her 2014 reelection bid. Harris would eventually win the race. 

Kris Krane, President of 4Front Ventures, has authored Forbes articles, detailing the disaster and promise Harris could have on legalization as Vice President. Krane said the dual analysis came from discussions he saw on his social media. He told Green Flower, “In scrolling through my social media feeds after Harris’ selection, it was clear to me that most reformers seem to feel that she is either a gift for legalization or a disaster who will maintain.”

Much is left to be determined. However, Harris and Biden quickly got to work on aligning their views in public. During their first weekend as a ticket in August, Harris re-affirmed the Biden policy for decriminalization when speaking with reporters. 

What To Look For Next

The Biden campaign could unveil additional stances on cannabis in the weeks to come until the November election. However, legalization may not get much time in the spotlight with the country’s ongoing pressing matters. That said, marijuana won’t likely be wholly relegated by the campaign either. The issue is vital in his more extensive criminal and social justice reform efforts. 

As cannabis serves as an integral part of justice reform, the Biden-Harris ticket isare likely going to continue advancing the decriminalization plan. The decision is sure to upset progressives and pro-cannabis supporters but may take steps to ending the disproportionate cannabis arrest rates of Black and other people of color. At the same time, in theory, American researchers will be able to cut down on red tape, examine cannabis more thoroughly, and possibly bring legalization forth under a Biden presidency. 

While Biden’s policy fails to keep up with the public’s demand, it signifies incremental growth in American drug policy. How much Americans approve of such a strategy will become more apparent after November 3rd. 

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