Presidential hopeful Joe Biden proposes cannabis decriminalization in ‘Plan for Black America’

May 6, 2020

Social justice took a small step forward for the cannabis movement today as presidential hopeful Joe Biden announced his ‘Plan For Black America,’ an all-encompassing racial justice proposal that includes cannabis decriminalization. The presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee and former Vice President plans to “decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions” as part of a broader plan to correct some of the wrongs imposed on African Americans throughout the nation’s history.

According to Biden’s proposal, “for African American families, we have not yet made America what it ought to be.” With that premise, he plans to repeal mandatory minimums, abolish the death penalty, and end sentencing disparities for crack cocaine, among other things.

“I believe that the moral obligation of our time is to rebuild our economy in a way that finally brings everyone along,” wrote Biden in his proposal. “That goal has always been the core of my candidacy — it’s the very reason that I am running for president. And achieving it starts by rooting out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, our institutions, and our hearts.”

The plan was supported by many of Biden’s surrogates, such as Sen. Cory Booker, himself a proponent of marijuana legalization. On Twitter, Booker wrote, “Our next president needs to be committed to taking on the systemic racial inequities in this country. @JoeBiden has a plan for Black America that will close the racial wealth gap, end health disparities, and advance environmental justice.”

However, others were less enthusiastic, noting the former Vice President’s apathetic stance towards cannabis legalization and his legislative history when it comes to the War on Drugs in general. Jason Ortiz, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment that it was a small step forward at best.

“Considering the long, violent history of the United States war on communities color, this plan is a half measure at best,” Ortiz told Marijuana Moment. “True equity for our communities would include an admission that our federal government committed a massive crime through the war on drugs, and a plan to undo that damage and make our communities whole.”

Joe Biden has a long history as a drug warrior and is responsible for writing the so-called “crackhouse statute,” the bill used today to prevent cities from opening Safe Consumption Sites that would help to curb the nationwide overdose epidemic. According to Politico, Biden had once said that he was “stuck” writing most of the drug legislation in the '80s and '90s due to his role on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, in reality, it was a role he embraced.

Today, however, Biden has softened his approach. Most recently, he has changed his mind on the idea that cannabis is a gateway drug, which leads to harder drugs. With more modern research showing that any drug can be a gateway drug, or not a gateway drug depending on a variety of factors, Biden is hoping that the public will see him change his approach.

“When you talk about marijuana, everybody says, ‘Biden says it’s a gateway drug,’” the candidate said in a recent interview while arguing for his position on decriminalization. 

“I think we should totally decriminalize the use of marijuana and possession of marijuana,” he said. “Not only decriminalize it. If you have ever been convicted of anything having to do with marijuana possession or use, your record gets wiped clean. By that, I mean you will legally be able to say if you were arrested and if you were put in prison, guess what, when you do a job application [that says] ‘you ever been arrested or in prison?’ you can legally say no.”

Still, Biden does believe the harms of cannabis need to be studied, especially if it is going to be legalized. IN the same interview, he was quoted as saying, “There are some scientists who say it may have an impact on mental health for some people. I don’t think we should criminalize it at all, but we should at least study it. Science makes a difference.”

For now, though, in the election, his focus is on decriminalization. He is working with former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on a joint criminal justice working group to come up with more proposals. Some believe that cannabis policy could be among them.

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