Joe Biden, the former vice president running for president, briefly reignited an old debate about whether marijuana is a gateway drug during a recent campaign stop. Biden said he continues to oppose recreational marijuana legalization because not enough research has been done on cannabis.
Of course, not a lot of research has been done in the United States because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. And the research marijuana provided by the federal government is so far below acceptable standards that researchers are suing the government on the issue.
However, Biden ended up changing his mind less than a week later in an interview, saying “I don’t think it is a gateway drug. There’s no evidence I’ve seen that suggests that.”
Biden’s flip-flop provides an example of how politicians often shift positions on complicated issues in a presidential campaign. But for everyone else, it’s understandable if it left them confused.
Biden Differs From His Opponents On Marijuana
Biden is the only Democrat running for the presidential nomination who does not support recreational marijuana legalization. But his comment about marijuana being a gateway drug went beyond that stance.
During a campaign stop in Las Vegas, Biden said: “The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug. It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
It’s important to note that Biden added: “But no one should go to jail for it, period.”
Other candidates in the Democratic primary took him to task for his comments. For example, Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted that the country “must legalize now.” Sen. Kamala Harris, who recently ended her campaign, tweeted: “Let’s be clear: marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and should be legalized.” Andrew Yang took the long view, saying he believes Biden will change his mind on the issue “if he sees the same evidence that I have.”
That proved true, as Biden reversed his position very quickly.
Is Further Research Needed?
Biden originally said it is “not irrational” for him to want more scientific research into marijuana. In that regard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree with him, saying that more research is needed to determine if marijuana is a gateway drug.
However, the CDC’s webpage on the issue starts with this declarative statement: “The majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances.”
Another way experts have started to look at marijuana is that its potential as a gateway drug is tied to the person involved. Some people may simply be more susceptible to drug use than others. As noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a person’s social environment and other “biological mechanisms” can determine a person’s risk for using “harder” drugs.
The institute writes that “an alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis” is that those who are vulnerable to drug-taking are “simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol.” After that, social interactions with others who use drugs may increase their chances of trying other drugs.
The institute also said further research is needed.