Former Vice President Joe Biden mistakenly said that he would “legalize” marijuana during a new interview, quickly correcting himself to clarify that he would simply decriminalize possession of cannabis. It’s at least the second time in recent weeks that the candidate has appeared to voice support for a legalization policy his campaign says he does not actually endorse.
“There is evidence that we have to do some more study on impact on mental acuity,” the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said in the interview released on Saturday by KMOV-TV in St. Louis, Missouri. “I would legalize—I would decriminalize and I would provide for the ability of the researchers to get in and make sure we got it right this time.”
Biden gave a similarly awkward response to a question about his marijuana stance last month, telling the Marijuana Policy Project’s Don Murphy during a conversation ahead of the New Hampshire primary that “it is at the point where it has to be basically legalized” before going on to insist that further research be done before he would commit to actually enacting the policy change.
On top of respecting states’ rights to implement their own cannabis policies, Biden said in the new interview with the Missouri TV station that he’d “instruct my departments not to enforce the federal law” in states that have enacted legalization.
“It should be changed to a Schedule II drug. We should move in a direction to make sure it’s not a criminal offense, it’s a civil offense,” he said. “Any conviction at all for marijuana now or in the future or in the past, your record should be wiped clean. It’s not something that is going to send anybody to jail.”
Throughout his campaign, Biden has been challenged and questioned about where he stands on the issue. While he’s taken steps to clarify his position on cannabis decriminalization and expungements, many reform advocates remain frustrated and point out that legalization is favored by a strong majority of Democratic voters, as well as his leading remaining primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Part of that skepticism comes from the fact that Biden proudly played a leading role in drafting some of the nation’s most punitive anti-drug laws during his time as a senator. But it’s also due to more recent comments, such as when he indicated in November that he opposes legalization because he believes marijuana could be a gateway drug.
After facing swift criticism for that remark, including on the debate stage, the former vice president reversed himself and insisted that cannabis is not a gateway to more dangerous drugs. He expressed frustration that people still associate him with his initial comments during a separate interview last week.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Marc Nozell.