Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) really wants to make sure you don’t think he still believes marijuana is a gateway drug.
“When you talk about marijuana, everybody says, ‘Biden says it’s a gateway drug,’” the 2020 presidential candidate lamented in an interview with The Shade Room that was published on Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s a gateway drug.”
In fact, Biden has changed his stance over time on the question of whether cannabis use leads to the consumption of other drugs.
In 2010, the then-vice president told ABC News that “I still believe it’s a gateway drug. I’ve spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize.”
That stance was consistent with the view he took over most of the course of his political life, during which he led the charge to ramp up the war on drugs as a senator.
Since launching his most recent presidential bid at a time when the vast majority of Democratic voters support legalizing cannabis, however, Biden has begun to evolve his stance on marijuana issues.
While he continues to oppose legalization, he does support more modest reforms such as decriminalizing possession, expunging past records, allowing medical cannabis and letting states set their own laws without federal interference.
But it was only less than four months ago that the candidate pontificated that the gateway theory might have some credence.
In November of last year, Biden was roundly criticized for suggesting that “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,” he said. “I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
Days later, Biden was eviscerated for the remark on the debate stage by then-rival candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). “I thought you might’ve been high when you said it,” the senator quipped.
And just days after that, Biden reversed himself on the cannabis question, telling reporters on a conference call that “I don’t think it is a gateway drug.”
“There’s no evidence I’ve seen to suggest that,” he said.
Later, in an interview with the New York Times editorial board published in January, Biden again emphasized he no longer thought marijuana is a gateway drug but added that “there have been studies showing that it complicates other problems if you already have a problem with certain drugs.”
Watch Biden’s latest marijuana comments below:
In the new interview with The Shade Room, Biden reiterated his newfound support for reforms that fall short of the full cannabis legalization policy embraced by Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), his chief remaining rival for the Democratic nomination.
“I think we should totally decriminalize the use of marijuana and possession of marijuana,” he said. “Not only decriminalize it. If you have ever been convicted of anything having to do with marijuana possession or use, your record gets wiped clean. By that I mean you will legally be able to say if you were arrested and if you were put in prison that, guess what, when you do a job application [that says] ‘you ever been arrested or in prison?’ you can legally say no.”
But he again voiced concern that cannabis can cause harm to some people.
“This is where it gets confused,” he said. “There are some scientists who say it may have an impact on mental health for some people. I don’t think we should criminalize it at all but we should at least study it. Science makes a difference.”
Earlier in the interview, Biden was pressed on his long record of support for harsh punitive legislation such as the 1994 Crime Bill, responding that it was supported at the time by many black leaders.
He also touted his leadership in establishing drug courts.
“Anybody who’s convicted of a crime that has to do with a drug should not be going to prison,” he said. “They should be going to rehabilitation.”
Sanders, for his part, has promised to legalize marijuana nationwide on the first day of his presidency. Legal experts, however, have questioned whether a president would have the power to carry out such a pledge.