In November of 2019, a Pew Research study revealed that 9 out of 10 Americans favor legalization of either medical or recreational/adult-use marijuana. As a political issue, the study found that a majority of Republicans—55%—and a majority of Democrats—78%—were in favor of legalization. American voters no longer believe marijuana should remain a criminalized, Schedule I substance. This is not shocking. The people have spoken, the money is flowing, and the globe keeps on spinning.
As his 2020 presidential campaign rolled out, former Vice President Joe Biden took the position that marijuana should be decriminalized, but not legalized. He justified his position by citing the debunked “gateway drug theory,” which even the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has acknowledged lacks scientific merit.
Recently, a task force formed between Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders issued a number of criminal justice reform measures. This is not yet Biden’s or the Democratic Party’s official platform stance, but it is instructive.
The joint task force findings do not recommend the federal legalization of marijuana, but rather look toward decriminalization and deferring to the states for their judgment(s) on medical or adult use marijuana legalization. As I’ve touched on before, this follows the philosophy of the Republican-supported States Act.
The task force further indicates that the federal government will not prosecute state-related marijuana crimes, and would view marijuana violations as something to be addressed with drug treatment rather than incarceration.
The task force also recommended not launching federal prosecution for legal matters at the state level – an obvious reference to Attorney General William Barr, accused of inappropriately using Justice Department funds to target the legal cannabis industry. Whether or not Barr abused his power remains to be seen.
Despite the overwhelming support of voters, the Biden-Sanders task force recommendations stop short of marijuana legalization. Why? Isn’t this a blue issue? Not so fast.
It’s been said that marijuana legalization is the “superweapon” that Biden refuses to use. The mere fact that Biden refuses to use this superweapon is indicative of Democratic policy, which has consistently favored the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory policy lane. This was Hillary Clinton’s position, equal to the rescheduling of cannabis to a Schedule II substance. This overall conservative approach to marijuana by the Democrats in the upcoming election is strategic – lay low and don’t say anything controversial.
Can the Democrats win an election based simply on the perceived disdain toward Trump, rather than having excitement and support for their own candidate? Are the Dems trying not to lose, rather than trying to win, playing it safe rather than setting forth an agenda – a hollow jack and the winner take the hand. The task force’s position on marijuana indicates that they see the issue as a distraction, one that could cause voters to abstain or switch party lines.
It’s unfortunate to watch the Democrats not see the opportunity for social progress by using cannabis as a vehicle for change. Legalizing marijuana is about undoing a century of racist drug policy that disproportionately targets Black and Latino communities — an issue ripe for the Democrats to own. Not to mention job creation. What does the country need right now in the face of a COVID-induced economic crisis? Jobs.
Perhaps Biden doesn’t want to be called a hypocrite. He did advance policy which included strict enforcement for drug crimes and mandatory minimum sentences, all of which disproportionately affected minorities. Again, 55% of Republicans support legalization. The days of Jeff Sessions’s prohibitionist policy are over. The native son just lost the Alabama primary.
A new breed of young Republicans have supported this issue. Whether that’s Cory Gardner in Colorado and his support of the States Act, or former California representative, Dana Rohrabacher, an Orange County Republican so in favor that he enacted the spending legislation with Democrat Sam Farr – the Rohrabacher Farr Amendment – to prohibit federal interference to state marijuana programs.
For Republicans, marijuana legalization is big business. At the end of the day, this is now an essentially designated business responsible for creating at least 250,000 new jobs across the country. All the core conservative platform issues are present: personal freedoms, liberty, and states’ rights. While our current President is a wildcard on this issue, and most others, these principals align with the GOP.
The legalization and commercialization of marijuana has taken the world by storm. Dozens upon dozens of countries are enacting marijuana legalization and commercialization reforms – some specifically because of the economic potential of the cannabis industry to combat a COVID-exacerbated recession.
A proactive candidate would recognize these issues. But here we are in America – skyrocketing cases of the virus, a mobilizing social movement for racial equality, and facing one of the deepest political divides in our nation’s history.
All the while, the marijuana issue just sits there, waiting to be seized. Since Joe looks to let it lie, perhaps the opportunity rests with the Republicans.
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