Debate season 2020 had already been one for the history books before Thursday night’s debate commenced. After a calamitous first debate, where interruptions were the norm, the second debate never came to be over fears of President Trump’s coronavirus status.
However, large moments of what was originally planned to be the third debate between President Trump and Joe Biden were downright peaceful and informative for the audience. Most of the evening’s affair saw Trump and Biden listen to one another with few potshots in between — with the credit for the civility largely going to moderator Kristen Welker and the first-of-their-kind-in-a-Presidential-debate muted microphones.
A good deal of substance and policy ideas were discussed during the evening. However, for cannabis reform advocates, the early portion of the night may have led more than a few to believe that nothing close to their core issue would come up once again.
First Half Covers Various Issues, But Not Cannabis
In the first presidential debate between the two, neither Trump nor Biden came close to discussing drug reform. The closest instance came when Trump disparaged Biden’s son, Hunter, for a drug addiction — which proved to earn Biden points among many voters after he empathized with the opioid struggle that continues to affect millions.
Cannabis reform did come up in the most passing of glances during the Vice President debate between VP Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, Harris reiterated Biden’s decriminalization stance as part of broader policy reform.
The early goings made it seem that cannabis reform wouldn’t come back up during the election cycle, and that proved to be true. That said, various substantive points were mentioned in the first half of the night, which included President Trump claiming that a COVID-19 vaccine would be ready and announced in the coming weeks. When pressed by Welker, the President wavered on the announcement date while standing firm in his belief that the military would handle distribution to citizens.
Trump also disagreed with officials when Welker asked if he believed his experts’ assessment that the virus would last until 2021 or 2022. Biden would counter saying the nation is heading into “a dark winter,” before he and Trump would spar over the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 virus.
The virus and its response would dominate the early segments. “There’s not another serious scientist who thinks it’ll end soon,” said Biden at one point. Trump would counter not long after, “We can’t close up our nation, or we won’t have a nation.”
COVID-19 strategies led to national security concerns surrounding election meddling from nations like Russia, Iran, and China. The topic would largely careen off course, diving into the candidate’s taxes before international dealings on the personal and geopolitical came about.
The faintest glimpses of cannabis policy came about as the evening shifted toward healthcare and the Affordable Care Act’s potential ending under a Conservative-held Supreme Court. Much of the conversation steered well clear of marijuana. However, at one point, Trump made a rather audacious claim, if polls prove accurate, that the GOP could retake control of the House of Representatives.
If that claim came to fruition, the GOP would regain the first Congressional body to approve a vote on cannabis reform after the Democrat majority approved a vote on the MORE Act that is slated for the upcoming lame-duck session.
Second Half Of The Evening Discusses Cannabis-Related Topics
Topics related to cannabis came more into the light as the second portion of the hour and a half debate shifted into gear. Welker initiated the subject on race and policing in America, noting that Black and minority families across socioeconomic backgrounds had to teach their children how to act to avoid escalation during police interactions.
“The fact of the matter is there is institutional racism in America,” said Biden, adding that America has never lived up to the “All men are created equal” belief it claims to hold so dear.
In his response, President Trump cited a myriad of efforts underway, including those from Senator Tim Scott, as well as Trump approving funding of historically black colleges and universities.
“I am the least racist person in the room,” President Trump would say later in the evening.
It was drug policy that is likely to resonate with scores of reform advocates and those most affected by the drug war. Biden, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a strong supporter of the 1994 Crime Bill, was accused of using the term ‘superpredator.’ In response, Biden accused Trump of supporting the same bill in later years. Biden would also cite Trump’s demands for justice against the Central Park 5 even after they were proven innocent.
Biden would admit his support for the Crime Bill was a mistake while denying ever using the term. The former VP added that there should be no minimum mandatory sentences. He also championed drug courts and compulsory rehab as his preferred policy moving forward rather than imprisonment.
The move, namely mandatory rehab, has not sat well with most reform advocates who do not support forced treatment. Nonetheless, it has been Biden’s policy in recent years, one which he said would be achieved if elected. Trump countered by asking why Biden could not make such reforms in the decades spent as a lawmaker or as Vice President.
“You’re all talk and no action,” said Trump. “We began the process, we lost an election,” Biden would reply.
Gaining Cannabis Policy Insights Without Discussing Marijuana
The final debate between Trump and Biden proved to shed light on how cannabis and drug policy could look under a Biden administration. With much of the topic focused on race and policing, drugs are never far from the conversation. As such, we got to hear Joe Biden make his most public admission of his error in supporting the ’94 Crime Bill and his stance on drug courts in broad terms.
For the President’s part, he mostly skirted the issue of policing, often shifting focus to his attention on Biden’s support for the Crime Bill and his own support of Black initiatives while as President. The shifting of the subject led to little to no information on his drug policy during the evening.
With the 2020 debates in the books, cannabis advocates could be dismayed by the lack of depth their core issue was discussed. However, the question is growing louder and more prominent. Decriminalization received a faint moment in the sun, and drug reform seems to be central to at least Joe Biden as he strives to right the wrongs of his past decisions.
Be sure to vote and have your voice heard on the President, cannabis reform, and other matters that affect your everyday life.