Even though two-thirds of Americans support the full, federal legalization of cannabis, and that marijuana offenses make up nearly 40 percent of all drug-related crimes, presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph Biden has not changed his long-standing position. According to several reports this week, on Monday, the Democratic National Committee rejected adding cannabis legalization to the party platform, with the measure losing by a final vote of 50 - 106.
Per some reports, a number of Democratic party delegates attempted to argue in favor of legalization being included in the platform and tried to persuade the committee that such a move would help to end the racist policies promoted by the War on Drugs while also helping to stimulate the economy in light of COVID-19.
Instead, Democrats voted for a watered-down measure, although one that hews more closely to Biden’s stated cannabis position. The current party language calls for decriminalization, automatic expungements, federal rescheduling via executive action, the legalization of medical cannabis, and a federalist policy that allows states to legalize recreational marijuana should they choose to do so.
According to reports, the language used in the party platform echoes that which was recently released by the joint task force formed by Biden and his former rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“We will support legalization of medical marijuana, and believe states should be able to make their own decisions about recreational use,” read the original task force document. “The Justice Department should not launch federal prosecutions of conduct that is legal at the state level. All past criminal convictions for cannabis use should be automatically expunged.”
Many people, both in Washington and the cannabis industry, have speculated on Biden’s reasons for not supporting cannabis legalization, especially when it seems like such an easy political win for the former Vice President. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, however, much of that speculation is incorrect.
Rather than being a proponent of Reefer Madness or overly concerned about a career in which he was a champion for mandatory minimum sentences, Biden’s aides say that his reluctance to support legalization has to do with the research, or lack of, on the safety of cannabis. He sees it as a public health issue and doesn’t want to legalize the plant until more studies are done thoroughly.
According to The Atlantic, however, others disagree with Biden. Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba wishes the Democratic nominee would consider how many Black Americans are jailed for cannabis and consider how the illicit market leads to drugs being laced with other chemicals.
For Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, it’s an issue of economics as well. “It’s the ultimate policy and financial low-hanging fruit,” Fetterman told The Atlantic. “If you’re not moved by the gross racial disparities, what state doesn’t need a couple hundred million more in revenue at this point?”
And yet, as The Atlantic noted, it can be easy to forget how progressive Biden’s position is when compared to every other presidential nominee… ever. While that will never make everyone happy, it is a big step forward.