For business leaders and consumers in the cannabis industry, there’s a key issue to watch as we move through the summer and get closer to the fall election: Will federal marijuana legalization become part of Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign platform?
Members of a task force Biden formed with Sen. Bernie Sanders, his past opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, certainly hope so. They have supported making cannabis legal in the past. In more recent statements, they seem to lean toward asking that federal marijuana legalization become part of Biden’s platform.
While legal for adult use in 11 states and medical use in 33 states, cannabis remains a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level. Sanders made federal marijuana legalization part of his campaign. Biden only favors decriminalization.
The task force may try to bridge that gap as part of its mandate to suggest changes in criminal justice policy to include in Biden’s presidential platform.
Legal Cannabis Has Become A Social Justice Issue
In the past few years, political leaders have made the issue about social justice. As pointed out by task form member Eric Holder in an interview, “You’re four times more likely to go to jail using marijuana if you are a person of color, if you’re black as opposed to if you’re white.”
Holder served as attorney general under President Barack Obama. He argues that leaders should make drugs a health issue, not a law enforcement issue. ““If I could change anything, I’d want to take all of that stuff out of the system. I think we have the possibility now, given all the protests that we have seen.”
That infers he favors making marijuana legal. He said in the past he would vote for legalization if serving in the U.S. Congress.
For Biden, support for making cannabis legal would mean a major change. He not only has opposed federal marijuana legalization, he said last year it is a gateway drug to using other drugs. After people criticized the statement, Biden quickly changed his mind.
Making A Bold Statement With Policy
Given the changes starting to happen in the wake of recent protests across the country, advocates see this as a good time to seek drug law changes. Chiraag Bains, a former federal prosecutor and co-chair of the task force, told NPR that Democrats “need a specific agenda and it needs to be bold.”
He said that if Congress just decriminalizes cannabis, police can still stop, search and frisk people. He said decriminalization leaves room “for extensive police involvement in people’s lives” and that it doesn’t address “the underlying systemic problems in policing and the justice system overall.”
Marijuana Moment put together a list of task force members who support legalization. They include Holder, Bains, Tennessee Sen. Raumesh Akbari, and former acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
For his part, Biden keeps saying more study is needed. A task force recommendation for legalization could change that stance. It’s something cannabis advocate will watch closely from now until November.