What are Joe Biden and the White House’s Stances on Marijuana?

While President Joe Biden has made some incredibly important and progressive decisions, like giving the States its first Black and South Asian female Vice President and first Black female Supreme Court justice, he is not the most progressive when it comes to marijuana.

Currently, according to Gallup, approximately 68% of US citizens support the legalization of marijuana at the federal level. However, Joe Biden was the only one of the Democratic presidential contenders in 2020 to not commit to legalizing marijuana on the national level. At the same time, he does not hold draconian views of cannabis either as he has gone on the record saying that people should not be imprisoned for using weed and he did promise to make it easier to conduct medical marijuana research.

Joe Biden

House votes to legalize marijuana, but…

On April 1, 2022, in what was not an April Fool’s Day gag, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to legalize marijuana by passing the MORE Act. If it becomes law a few of the many things that would happen are: marijuana would be removed from the list of federally banned drugs, marijuana products would be subject to an excise tax, and breeders/producers and importers would need to apply for federal permits.

Unfortunately, despite the House voting to legalize weed, the MORE Act is expected to not pass in the Senate, and even if it somehow does, many voters worry that Biden might exercise his veto power as White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to answer if he supports the bill or not.  It is also possible that he would sign the bill into law, as if he vetoes it, he would risk alienating a good majority of his younger (18-39-year-old) voters, and legalizing marijuana could help him not only keep them but win back the ones he’s lost.

Psaki did also go on to say that Biden does support some reforms, such as his campaign promises to decriminalize marijuana and expand research on the effects of marijuana. Psaki said he also supports reforms related to the safe use of medical marijuana.

Joe Biden

Campaign promises made, kept, pushed aside

As mentioned above, Biden made a campaign pledge to make medical marijuana research easier to conduct. This is a promise that he has somewhat followed through on with the signing of the infrastructure bill in November 2021 that includes provisions that allow for researchers to study the marijuana that consumers actually purchase from their local dispensaries versus only being able to study government-grown cannabis. 

That said, while he has kept the provision for protecting legal medical cannabis programs from federal interference in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal year budget proposals, Biden still wants to continue to block Washington, D.C. from legalizing marijuana sales and wants it to be left out of the budget. Another campaign promise that Biden has kept so far is to keep the federal government out of states’ right to decide for themselves about the legalization and regulations related to marijuana. 

While Biden said on the campaign he said that marijuana should be decriminalized, he has yet to extend clemency to “cannabis offenders,” which is a power that he as president does have. When Joe Biden was running for president he clearly stated that he was in favor of moving marijuana from Schedule I to II under the Controlled Substances Act. While this may seem rather inconsequential, doing so would make it easier for researchers to study its risks and benefits. However, Biden has yet to act on this campaign statement.

It is said that the biggest reason that Biden’s administration has been slow to move on cannabis reforms on the federal level is due to the fact that he and his team came in at a time when there was a global and nationwide pandemic that needed to finally be proactively addressed.

While that makes sense, it does not make sense why Biden made all of these relatively “pro-cannabis reform” statements and yet his own Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said as recently as late 2021, that it opposes a bill passed on November 4, 2021, by the House that would require the VA to execute clinical trials related to marijuana’s therapeutic potentials for veterans.

Joe Biden

Weed as viewed from working inside the Biden administration

In the early part of 2021, the Biden administration reportedly asked dozens of White House staff, who during their background check process admitted to using marijuana in the past, to resign, aka they were fired, or punished. Not even the brilliant Psaki was able to successfully spin this despite attempts to appease her office by emphasizing that no one was let go for “marijuana usage from years ago,” and that no staffer was asked to resign “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”

Then a year later in March of 2022, it was reported that employees of the White House cannot invest in cannabis companies. The employee conduct guidelines also made it clear that the eligibility of potential hires and an individual’s chances of receiving security clearance will be “negatively impacted,” regardless if they did so unknowingly. However, it is speculated that this decision may have been made not so much as a means to set cannabis reform back, but out of the recognition that the cannabis industry is growing and becoming more normalized. Viewed from that perspective, this could be seen as an indication that by wanting to eliminate the possibilities of conflicts of interests the White House knows or has a sense that the federal government will begin to take further steps to regulate marijuana.

Conclusion

While Joe Biden is far from being progressive in his stance on marijuana, the fact that he does support decriminalizing weed and making it easier for marijuana research to be conducted is, as most things are, a massive improvement over his predecessor. Also, the fact that the House passed the MORE Act shows that even if this White House administration won’t be the one to do so, the federal legalization of marijuana does look like it could happen in the near-ish future provided each of us votes for the kinds of Senate and Congress members who support progress and reform.

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