Wednesday July 8, 2020
By Paul Barach
When presidential candidate Joe Biden called for the federal decriminalization of marijuana as part of his Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America, it was met with a collective groan from both cannabis advocates as well as many civil rights leaders. The plan demotes cannabis from a highly controlled Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug. This means that cannabis’ medical benefits can be studied at a federal level and possession of the drug amounts to basically a traffic fine. It also expunges previous criminal convictions.
While nearly every pro-cannabis voter agrees that this is an unwelcome half-measure, in the modern era decriminalization has only ever led to full legalization. Also, it’s not as though Biden has an enormous moral issue with marijuana. As with many positions he’s taken, his views tend to progress along with the culture and with some gentle nudging he may agree to full legalization within his term.
If Biden is elected, one of the people doing that nudging towards full legalization may be his vice-president. According to the New York Times, Biden’s vice-presidential search is narrowing down but not yet over. The short list of potential running mates has many qualified candidates with a much more progressive view of cannabis.
Senator Elizabeth Warren
The progressive policy leader of this pack of candidates, Senator Warren was a driving force behind the STATES act being drafted in the Senate. This bill would prohibit the federal government from intervening in the cannabis businesses of states that have legalized marijuana. Its second aim is to ease federal banking regulations on cannabis businesses, which would revolutionize the industry. She’s also co-sponsored six other major pieces of cannabis legislation, including removing cannabis from the controlled substances act and withholding federal funding from states that enforce discriminatory marijuana policing laws.
Her website openly calls for the federal legalization of marijuana and includes the following plan. If selected as vice president, this plan would certainly find its way onto Biden’s desk.
Senator Kamala Harris
Back in college, Kamala Harris was blazing up while listening to Snoop Doggy Dog and Tupac according to a recent interview. She’s publically spoken about her marijuana use, and since she ended up as the District Attorney of San Francisco, the Attorney General of California, and then a US Senator, we can assume that she doesn’t see consuming pot as ruining people’s lives.
As Senator Harris has said, “Listen, I think it gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy in the world.”
She has also stated via tweet “Let me be clear: it’s time we legalized marijuana at the federal level. Marijuana laws are not applied or enforced in the same way for all Americans, many whose lives have been ruined by these regressive policies. We must change the system”
Naturally, Harris supports legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs, as she’s covered in her book. One can assume she would support full legalization once in the vice presidency office.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer
As the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer has overseen the statewide recreational legalization of cannabis. Any fears that she’s only doing this for political points can be assuaged by her most recent actions. She attended Michigan’s 2018 Hash Bash as advocates were still working to get recreational legalization on the ballot for that year.
As she said in a video played the following year: “We worked hard, we got it done, we made recreational marijuana legal in the state of Michigan...Last month, I established the Marijuana Regulatory Agency to make sure we can efficiently regulate both medical and recreational marijuana. I am proud of the work we did to pass Prop 1…”
She also joined 17 other governors in writing a letter to congress urging them to open up the banking system to money from the legal cannabis industry, and is working to expunge the records of everyone in her state incarcerated or arrested for marijuana possession. Given what a success it has been in her state, it is hard to imagine she would not push the president to allow for full reform.
As of her 2018 run for governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams supported the full decriminalization of cannabis, and has stated that she’s open to full legalization. It’s hard to get a read on this since Georgia’s cannabis laws are a mess. Recreationally, cannabis is still illegal, although they allow for medical patients to possess cannabis.
However, they do not allow growing in the state, which forces medical patients to search for weed illegally. As a candidate, Stacey Abrams supported the in-state growing of cannabis, but doesn’t seem to be vocally supporting total legalization. While that may change or evolve as an outgrowth of criminal justice reform, she is not the most passionate supporter on this list.
Senator Tammy Duckworth
While Illinois’ Tammy Duckworth has not been a passionate proponent of cannabis legalization throughout her career, she was advocating for federal decriminalization back in 2018. Senator Duckworth co-sponsored the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity act two years ago along with Senator Bernie Sanders and others. The act would have removed cannabis from the controlled substances act, allowed cannabis companies access to federal banks, and provide funding for women and minority owned businesses to allow them to compete in the marijuana marketplace. The bill also aimed to expunge prior cannabis convictions.
More recently, after her state legalized cannabis recreationally, Senator Duckworth appears even more pro-cannabis. In January 2020 she visited a recreational shop to meet with local leaders about racial disparities in the cannabis industry and criminal justice reforms for those arrested for pot possession.
These stances show that while Senator Duckworth isn’t a vocal supporter of full legalization, she would at least hold Biden to his plans for decriminalization and criminal justice reform.
Mayor Keisha Bottoms
Atlanta’s Keisha Lance Bottoms came to prominence for her handling of the George Floyd protests earlier this year. Her views on cannabis aren’t widely publicized, however the previous mayor signed an ordinance decriminalizing cannabis and she has not rescinded it. She’s also sought to restrict public viewing of criminal records involving convictions with less than an ounce of pot. Like Stacy Abrams and Senator Duckworth, Mayor Bottoms seems to be on the more conservative side of cannabis reform, supporting decriminalization as a criminal justice issue without passionately advocating for full legalization.
The Road Ahead
While we can hope that a Biden presidency will lead to full federal legalization by the end of his term, the chances will be much higher if he chooses a pro-legalization vice president. However, even if he picks one who supports decriminalization over legalization, this shouldn’t stop local cannabis advocacy. Voters in prohibition states will need to continue pushing their local governments for legalization and those in legalized states must push their congressional representatives to put forward bills in the house and Senate that fully end cannabis prohibition. To look on the bright side, no matter who Biden picks, full support for decriminalization still puts us halfway there.
What politician are you excited about for cannabis reform? Cast your votes in the comments.