Joe Biden Should 'Evolve' On Legalizing Weed

[ Posted Thursday, December 7th, 2023 – 17:52 UTC ]

President Joe Biden seems to be having some trouble getting young voters enthused about voting for him next year. There's a very simple answer to this problem -- one that he should adopt as soon as possible. He should announce that he has "evolved" on the subject of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, and unveil a new plan to make it happen on the federal level. This wouldn't be anywhere near as risky as the first time the word "evolve" was attached to Biden getting out in front of a political issue. For Biden, it'd be seen as a real Nixon-goes-to-China shift in position, which would only add to its appeal. And it is tailor-made to get young voters to the polls in droves (as well as plenty of older voters as well).

There were two developments in the ongoing governmental retreat in the War On Weed this week. As of today, Ohio adults can now both legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, as well as cultivate it at home. They can't yet legally buy weed, because the marketplace regulations are not in place, but from today on Ohioans can have and grow weed without fearing arrest or worse. This is the 24th state to legalize recreational marijuana, which is not quite half of them, but does now contain over half of the American population. Legal weed is where most Americans live, to put it slightly differently (and ungrammatically).

The second development is not as tangible yet, but -- if he wasn't just speaking off-the-cuff without really meaning it -- the relevant Republican House committee chair indicated that it'd be fine with him if the District of Columbia enacted some sane rules on a legal marijuana marketplace. This is a complete 180-degree turn for the Republican Party -- again, if he actually follows through on his statement.

Democrats, from Joe Biden on down, need to embrace this popular movement. A lot of them have, in fact. But others are still living in the past on the issue and still carry around fears of Republicans using "soft on crime" against them as a political club if they support marijuana legalization. Joe Biden is, unfortunately, one of these Democrats. He was what you could accurately be called a "true drug warrior" during the 1980s and 90s when being branded "soft on crime" was indeed a big liability for Democrats. Remember, Bill Clinton -- rather unbelievably -- only very timidly admitted he had smoked weed in the past, stating that he "didn't inhale." Um, yeah, right Bill.... [eyeroll]... sure you didn't. It wasn't until Barack Obama came on the scene that a Democratic president fully admitted he had indeed enthusiastically partaken of the evil weed.

Biden, through all this period, voted for and fully supported fighting the War On Drugs (and its subset the War On Weed). He still exhibits the drug warrior mindset, even if he has rather reluctantly made moves to improve the way the federal government sees and deals with marijuana. So it would indeed be a big moment of "evolving" on the issue for him.

The political history of this word being used for a politician bending to a new reality is instructive, since it was Biden himself who forced Obama's hand on gay marriage. Obama had rather timidly been evolving (his term) or moving towards supporting gay marriage (instead of just some sort of second-class "civil unions"), when Biden -- his vice president at the time -- gave an interview and fully supported the idea. This was right at the start of their 2012 re-election campaign, when Biden appeared on Meet The Press as part of the campaign's launch weekend. And Biden went a lot further than the carefully-constructed political position Obama had fashioned:

When he took his seat on the set of NBC's Washington studio, [Vice President Joe] Biden projected the image of the president's lieutenant in a crisp charcoal suit, white shirt and blue-striped tie. But when host David Gregory asked about a sensitive unresolved issue hanging over the administration, Biden veered from the campaign playbook. "You know," Gregory began, "the president has said that his views on gay marriage, on same-sex marriage, have evolved. But he's opposed to it. You're opposed to it. Have your views... evolved?"

Biden acknowledged that he had indeed evolved on the issue -- faster and further than the president. Several weeks earlier, Biden had admitted in a private meeting in Los Angeles with 30 advocates for gay and lesbian rights that his view differed from Obama's, and he'd told the group that he had to keep his opinion to himself. But now, on national television, he spoke from the heart.

"Look," Biden began. "I just think -- that -- the good news is" -- he set his elbows on the table and interlaced his fingers, almost prayerlike. Same-sex marriage, he explained, came down to "a simple proposition: Who do you love?" He repeated it for emphasis: "Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love?" He explained that most people believed that was what all marriages were about, "whether they're marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals."

Realizing he'd strayed into controversial territory, Biden stressed he was speaking for himself personally, not for the White House. "I -- I -- look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy," he observed. And he elaborated on his own view: "I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another" -- he slowed down now to make his point perfectly clear -- "are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that."

That was on Sunday. Wednesday, Obama taped an interview where he followed Biden's lead on the issue: "At a certain point, I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Obama had finally fully and publically evolved on gay marriage.

This is exactly the sort of evolution Biden should now go through himself on the full legalization of cannabis in this country. He could either do it on his own or he could be reluctantly pushed into it by Kamala Harris (to give her a leadership moment in the sun, much like Biden enjoyed after the issue became more mainstream).

Current federal laws on marijuana are, in a word, insane. Marijuana is treated as a more-dangerous substance than: morphine, opium, fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, and barbiturates. That is clearly insane, because marijuana is nowhere near as potent or "dangerous" a drug as any of those. Cannabis is deemed to have "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States" and a "high potential for abuse." Except for, you know, the 38 states (three-fourths of them) -- that have legalized medical marijuana. And almost half the states that have legalized recreational use. The disconnect between federal and state cannabis laws has grown to a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon.

Biden can change all of this by announcing he wants to end the War On Weed once and for all. His administration has already evolved to a certain extent on the issue, as the Department of Health and Human Services has now recommended that marijuana be "rescheduled," or moved into a category below all those other narcotics listed in the above paragraph. But this is a half-measure at best.

The current federal marijuana laws are insane, please remember. A business selling marijuana in any of the states where it is legal is barred from using the banking system (since they are, in the feds' eyes, no better than "drug traffickers"). They must do all their business in cash -- which is an incredibly dangerous thing to do (as it invites crime against the regular movement of all that cash). They cannot write off as business expenses things like salaries paid to employees -- something that every other business in America is allowed to do. Moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III would solve some of this insanity, but it is not the commonsense answer to the problem.

The real end of the road is descheduling marijuana, not just rescheduling it. Move it to the federal department which is absolutely tailor-made for the job: the A.T.F. They already deal with regulating federal alcohol and tobacco laws, which is the exact category where marijuana belongs (quite obviously).

The drug warriors are in full retreat in America. The people have spoken. They are sick and tired of the War On Weed and see nothing wrong with picking up a pre-rolled joint along with a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. Legalization measures (the well-written ones, at any rate) keep winning in direct elections in state after state. In some states, the legislature has even acted to legalize marijuana. Far from having "no currently accepted medical use," millions of Americans use either marijuana or non-intoxicating cannabis derivatives such as C.B.D. to ease a huge number of medical symptoms and conditions.

But whether the people or the politicians are leading on the issue at the state level, there is still inaction on the federal level. Politically, legalization is still seen as some sort of hot-button issue -- even after polling shows that an overwhelming amount of the American public supports legalization. And now even the Republicans are realizing their position is becoming increasingly untenable.

Washington, D.C. legalized recreational marijuana by ballot referendum in 2015. But D.C. is unique, since it is a federal enclave. Meaning Congress has the final word over anything that happens there. So while it is legal to possess and grow marijuana in D.C., Congress has blocked any implementation of a marketplace where people can legally buy and sell marijuana. The law remains exactly where Ohio's law is right now -- weed's legal, but you can't buy it. [D.C. has a loophole, since the ballot measure allowed people to "gift" marijuana to each other, so stores can legally sell you a pack of gum for the princely price of $25 or $30... and then (coincidentally, of course) "gift" you with a bag of weed as a "free" bonus -- but full implementation has still not happened.]

Then came a tiny notice this week in a Politico blog that tracks what Congress is doing each day:

House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) told reporters on Wednesday he would support allowing Washington D.C. to tax and regulate legalized marijuana "if that is what the city wants."

The comments came after a meeting with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser largely centered around rising crime concerns in the nation's capital. However, the rhetoric is significant as congressional Republicans have insisted on a rider to spending bills in recent years barring the city from legalizing recreational marijuana sales.

If even the House Republicans are now in full retreat in the War On Weed, then there simply is no down side to getting out in front of the issue for Joe Biden. He can announce that he will support and try to fully implement changing federal law so that the A.T.F. is in charge of marijuana, and that there will be strict oversight (as the feds do on the production of alcohol), but also that each state and locality is free to set whatever rules they want on the sale of marijuana in their jurisdictions. Please note that qualifier: sale. There are still "dry counties" in America where you cannot buy a bottle of liquor, a century after Prohibition. But even in those counties, you are still allowed to have a bottle of Jack Daniels in the trunk of your car as you drive across them. They can't make alcohol completely illegal, in other words -- you're still allowed to possess it and even consume it in the privacy of your own home. You're just not allowed to buy it locally. Those are exactly the limits that states and counties should be held to in the case of marijuana. They'd still be free to ban sales, but they couldn't ban simple possession.

Joe Biden could be the new champion of this commonsense, not-insane view of the federal government towards marijuana. It even comes with its own built-in bumpersticker slogan: "Treat marijuana like alcohol." The issue is overwhelmingly popular with the youngest of voters -- a group that Biden is going to need to get re-elected next year. And Biden could achieve some of this administratively, even without getting Congress on board (although fully descheduling it would require congressional approval). For millions of voters, this would be something to get them excited to vote for Joe Biden again. Which is precisely what Biden needs right now. C'mon, Joe... even the Republicans are waving the white flag! It's time for you to fully evolve on the issue and show some leadership.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Joe Biden Should 'Evolve' On Legalizing Weed”

  1. [1] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    He ought to also "evolve" on the concept of passing the intergenerational baton when old fogies appear to be losing!

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Given America’s short attention span and even shorter, er, long term memory, I believe that Joe Biden is practicing effective politics by keeping his powder dry until next year.

    I’d like to see Joe drop the bomb in early Summer and have Democrats in both Houses of Congress aggressively push for legislation. Put all the Repugs on the record as voting contrary to their Constituent’s wishes regarding the War on Drugs.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    This is why I’m not at all dismayed at “White House inaction.” No one will remember this in 2024.

  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    It's not clear to me that false electors should be subject to any penalties at all. The Constitution unambiguously gives Congress the final say on presidential elections. If a nominee for elector believes that their state election authority has certified appointment of electors contrary to the manner in which the legislature of their state has directed, Congress is the correct final stop for any such appeal.

    A delusional person, who acts in a way that would have been lawful if their delusional beliefs had been true, lacks mens rea. If they commit a tort pursuant to their delusion, they may be liable for the resulting damages. But they should not be subject to any penalty. In this case, there are no damages. All they do is oblige Congress to deposit their documents in the circular file.

  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    Capitalism stinks. A member of our mostly-hereditary wealth-based aristocracy can command the president of a university to say what he wants her to say, and she has no meaningful recourse.

    As I understand it, the president of Harvard correctly stated that the university's policy on bullying and harassment only addresses bullying and harassment of students, not advocacy of general political positions, no matter how unambiguously evil those positions are. A donor commanded her to recant. I think she "clarified" in a way that doesn't actually comply with the command, but does implicitly acknowledge the authority of the wealthy to issue such commands.

    We should fund education by giving the necessary money to educational institutions, not by giving all the money to the parasite class and hoping that they give enough of it to universities.

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:


    It's not clear to me that false electors should be subject to any penalties at all.

    Electors are mandated by statute/law in each state to choose according to the vote of the people of the state. When a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, that candidate's designated slate of electors gets to participate in the Electoral College process while the losing candidates slate of electors do not. Following the 2020 election and the multiple recounts and extensive post-election litigation in the requisite multiple states, the vote counts were confirmed repeatedly, and any candidate's electors obviously knew the outcome of the certified results. Any false certification by any elector to the contrary of the popular vote as certified by their requisite state would more likely than not violate multiple state and federal laws and constitute crime(s), obviously depending on the wording of the fake document delivered to NARA/Congress (in violation of federal law).

    A delusional person, who acts in a way that would have been lawful if their delusional beliefs had been true, lacks mens rea.

    Someone thinks they are driving on a one-way street; however, they are "delusional" and hit an oncoming car in (what they believe is lawfully) "their lane." Believe me when I tell you they could be charged with a myriad of crimes ranging from minor traffic violations all the way up to manslaughter (if their actions caused the death of another person). Mens rea (state of mind) can be proven via multiple "avenues" of action/inaction:

    * Acting purposely/intentionally
    * Acting knowingly
    * Acting recklessly
    * Acting negligently.

    If they commit a tort pursuant to their delusion, they may be liable for the resulting damages.

    As well as criminally culpable under mens rea as listed above.

    But they should not be subject to any penalty.

    One does not escape criminal culpability and/or civil liability for their actions caused intentionally, knowingly, recklessly and/or negligently, etc. simply because their action/inaction failed to produce physical and/or monetary damages.

    In this case, there are no damages.

    You do realize the case of fake electors was part of a larger conspiracy that included knowingly/recklessly directing a mob to descend on Congress in order to help produce an intended outcome? Convince me there were no damages. Good luck. :)

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