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Biden Is Too Old To Grasp The Need To Legalize Marijuana, Challenger Dean Phillips Says



Dean Phillips, the Minnesota congressman challenging Joe Biden in the Democratic primary, said in a newly published interview that the president is too old and out of touch to understand contemporary cannabis issues.

“I think it’s generational,” Phillips said. “People in their 80s do not see things, have not lived things, have not experienced things that younger generations have.”

Phillips, 54, was speaking to Newsweek as part of a wide-ranging interview about his presidential ambitions and what differentiates him from incumbent Biden.

The criticism comes after Phillips’s suggestion last month that Biden try smoking marijuana himself in order to better grasp the “hypocrisy” of federal prohibition, though he later clarified he didn’t mean the comment literally.

Nevertheless, in the new interview, which was conducted ahead of Biden’s latest round of marijuana pardons, Phillips called the cannabis question “a perfect case” of why he’s running for president.

“I think it’s tragic when you see state after state legalizing and our president taking no steps almost whatsoever to do so,” he said. “That’s a big reason why we have to look at our criminal justice system, as well. We’ve harmed communities based on bad policy. This is one of them.”

Black Americans especially have been harmed by prohibition, Phillips noted. “It has harmed thousands and thousands of Americans who are sometimes sitting in prison, while others, mostly white, are making millions of dollars in the same business. It’s hypocrisy.”

The congressman described marijuana legalization as something “most of the country wants,” but he said leaders in Congress “can’t do the most basic work that the country is asking.”

“It’s tragic,” he said. “But we can change it.”

Asked whether he would commit to legalizing cannabis, Phillips replied, “Absolutely. Immediately.”

“I can’t do it alone. But the Congress should be listening to Americans,” he continued, pointing to cannabis legalization, abortion access and universal background checks for firearms as issues he wants to work with lawmakers to advance. “When majorities, supermajorities of the country, believe in these things and the Congress doesn’t respond, there’s something wrong, and that’s what I’m actually pointing out. There is something wrong. People are not being heard, and I intend to fix it.”

Phillips, who’s also previously expressed support for psychedelics reform, said that issue also lays bare the age difference between him and Biden.

“I think this is a perfect example of where we need generational change to accommodate new thinking,” he said in the new interview. “We should be studying psilocybin, which is helping veterans and those with PTSD and other psychological conditions. It’s helping improve their lives. My concern is because they’re naturally occurring, medicinals, there’s no incentive for the pharmaceutical industry, so they want to maintain the status quo.”

Phillips, who announced his run for the Democratic presidential nomination in October, has a consistent record supporting broad drug policy reform in Congress. While in office, he’s supported federal marijuana legalization, pushed the Biden administration to provide relief to those who’ve been criminalized over cannabis and advocated for research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

“Cannabis is still a Schedule I narcotic in the United States of America, like heroin. It’s nonsensical,” Phillips said recently. “But this is your federal government, with people who think that’s fine.”

Phillips has voted for and cosponsored several cannabis reform bills, including a Democratic-led legalization measure titled the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in 2020, 2022 and 2023 as well as a bipartisan legalization proposal called the States Reform Act.

He voted for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to safeguard financial institutions that work with state-licensed cannabis businesses in 2019 and 2021, and he was listed as a cosponsor of the revised proposal this past session.

On the campaign trail last month, Phillips pointed to an exit poll from Ohio—which overwhelmingly approved a marijuana legalization initiative at the ballot box—showing that only 25 percent of state voters feel Biden should run for re-election. He called the issue an example of the “disconnect between the DC political industrial complex + X, and the exhausted majority of Americans.”

While Biden has steadfastly maintained his opposition to adult-use marijuana legalization—a position that the White House affirmed has not changed since Ohio voted to enact the reform—the president did grant a mass pardon to people who’ve committed federal cannabis possession offenses last year, while also directing an administrative review into marijuana scheduling. He extended his cannabis pardon action last week.

The earlier directive also resulted in a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is now reviewing the health agency’s findings as it prepares to make a final scheduling determination.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who is retiring after the end of this Congress, recently told Marijuana Moment that, if he were Biden, he would act more boldly to end cannabis criminalization ahead of next year’s election, in part to “atone” for his record championing punitive drug policies during his time in the Senate.

Phillips’s position on the issue, meanwhile, closely aligns with the majority public opinion, with a recent Gallup poll showing support for marijuana legalization at a record 70 percent high. That includes 87 percent of Democrats.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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