There is a new sheriff in town (Joe Biden) and whether the new guy will be any better than the last, well, that remains to be seen. The first 100 days, when each president sets the tone for what U.S. citizens can expect from his policies, will tell us everything we need to know about the man who is about to take office. Will President-elect Joe Biden lead the country and its citizens towards prosperity or were we better off with Donald Trump?
Well, that’s a tricky question to answer. Especially as it pertains to sweeping marijuana legalization.
Although Democrats have spent the past four years pushing federal pot reforms, Joe Biden isn’t exactly what the kids would consider “cool.” Not in the slightest. Not only was he part of the Congressional clan that imposed harsher drug penalties back in the day, but he also spent the beginning of his recent presidential campaign professing that weed was a gateway to harder drugs.
“There’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Biden said in a 2019 Townhall. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more information before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
Biden just doesn’t believe that marijuana should be made legal – not until we fully understand it. But he has come to terms with it to some degree. While Biden isn’t keen on full-blown legalization, he now believes that locking people up for petty drug possession is a bit too harsh. “I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use,” Biden said in an October Townhall.
The most likely scenario for marijuana reform in the United States is a move where it is decriminalized, not legalized. The Democrats, under the guidance of Biden, made their intentions perfectly clear over the summer. “Democrats will decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level. We will support legalization of medical marijuana, and believe states should be able to make their own decisions about recreational use. The Justice Department should not launch federal prosecutions of conduct that is legal at the state level. All past criminal convictions for cannabis use should be automatically expunged.”
So what is decriminalization?
Unlike legalization – what we’ve seen happen in a growing number of states — this approach just ensures that nobody ever goes to jail for small-time possession. There is no taxed and regulated market for people to buy weed. Pot users in prohibition states would still have to get it from the black market the same as they always have. They just wouldn’t get arrested if they got nabbed by the cops.
The concept is not without repercussions, however.
Under decriminalization, cannabis offenders can still be fined and sentenced to complete a drug recovery program. And Biden might make rehab a stipulation. “They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation,” he said last month. “We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed.”
So, pot offenders might not necessarily get away unscathed. Still, considering that law enforcement in the United States continues to lock up roughly 600,000 pot offenders every year – most of them for petty possession — any decriminalization measure could do the nation some good.
But it’s not like President Biden can just walk into the Oval Office on day one and make any of this stuff magically happen. He’s going to need the help of Congress for the decriminalization part – and that’s where, as they say, good intentions pave the road to hell. The outcome of Congress still hangs in the balance. Although the Democrats control the House of Representatives, the vote determining who will lead the Senate remains split down the middle at 48-48. However, the Democrats need to win control of the Senate (51 seats) to have a fighting shot at passing marijuana decriminalization. As long as the Republicans (and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) hold power there, any pot-related bill the House pushes through is going nowhere. Both Houses must agree on legislation before it gets sent to the president for a signature.
The only aspect of the Democratic pot plan that Biden has the authority to spearhead is get the rescheduling process started. As it stands, marijuana is a Schedule I dangerous drug in the eyes of the federal government. It means that it is considered highly addictive and has absolutely no medicinal value. But Biden’s administration can swoop in and lead the charge to downgrade the plant to a lesser schedule.
If that happens, the herb would be opened to more research, and Big Pharma could capitalize on it, the same way it does other medicine. It wouldn’t just be a situation where Pfizer could just start selling pot at pharmacies for everything that ails us. Drug companies would be required to conduct clinical trials to determine whether weed shows promise for treating cancer and other conditions before marketing a pot product. And that sort of thing takes years of research and sometimes billions of dollars to develop. It’s for deep pockets.
Even if everything works out in favor of the Democrats, that still doesn’t mean much. Although Biden and crew could decide to decriminalize marijuana nationwide, the law wouldn’t force states to follow suit. This means areas of total prohibition could still be raging wangs about it and continue arresting pot offenders as much as they want. States have the right to make their own laws.
But a decriminalization plan under the Biden administration would send a message to states that marijuana is no longer worth the hassle of locking people up. Hopefully, the majority would go along with it.
Let’s just hope that marijuana decriminalization gets a shot on Capitol Hill next year. Democrats need the Senate for that to happen. If they don’t end up winning, it could be a long time before anything substantial in the realm of pot reform gets pushed through at the federal level. The Republicans will not budge.