Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Friday that he knows “a lot of weed smokers” and seemed to suggest that they’ve provided him with anecdotal evidence that informs his opposition to marijuana legalization.
In an interview with The Breakfast Club, the former vice president first discussed his view that “no one should be going to jail for drug crime, period” and said that’s particularly true for cannabis, for which it “makes no sense for people to go to jail.”
Biden was then pressed about the difference between decriminalizing marijuana possession, which he supports, and broader legalization, a policy he has continued to oppose despite its popularity, especially among Democratic voters. Rather than discuss the policy differences in detail, he explained why he’s against comprehensive reform.
“Because they’re trying to find out whether or not there is any impact on the use of marijuana—not in leading you to other drugs. But does it affect long-term development of the brain? And we should wait until the studies are done. I think science matters,” he said.
“I think we got decades and decades and studies from actual weed smokers, though,” host Charlamagne tha God responded.
“Yeah, I do. I know a lot of weed smokers,” Biden said.
In agreeing with the premise—that we do have information about the impact of cannabis consumption from the millions of people who partake, including “a lot” that Biden knows personally—he appears to be signaling he feels it does have negative consequences, and that’s part of the reasoning behind his opposition to legalization.
“Neither President Trump nor Vice President Biden have proposed a federal marijuana policy that aligns with the views of the American people,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Anecdotal experience should never serve as the basis for making executive decisions that affect the lives of millions of Americans.”
Whether the former vice president’s shares former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s belief that marijuana consumers are not “good people” is uncertain, but what’s clear is that his impression of those he knows who do use cannabis has not inspired him to push for changes to laws that would allow them to legally purchase the substance from licensed businesses instead of from the criminal market.
Instead, Biden has drawn the line at simple decriminalization, expunging past convictions, federal rescheduling, legalizing cannabis for medical purposes and letting states set their own policies.
“If Joe Biden truly was friends with many marijuana consumers he would know what the overwhelming majority of Americans know: that millions of otherwise law abiding citizens partake in cannabis and prohibition is an utter failure that destroys communities and families,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment. “Outside of elite political circles, there are still over 600,000 individuals arrested every year for simple possession and the vast majority of those targeted are black and brown Americans.”
“Joe, more than anyone, needs to get on the right side of history when it comes to marijuana policy given he is the architect of many of the laws that gave rise to the drug war and mass incarceration in the first place,” he said. “His continual denial of the moral and scientific reality we live in is pure malarkey and shouldn’t stand unchallenged in 2020.”
Earlier in the interview, he described another proposal he’s made previously: mandatory rehabilitation for people convicted of other drug crimes.
“It costs less to put people in a drug rehabilitation program than it does in jail, and you have a chance,” he said. “You’ve got to give people a chance.”
While many reform advocates would view that as superior to incarceration, most still take issue with the idea of forcing someone into treatment over a non-violent drug consumption.
The new comments are the latest signal that Biden has no current plans to evolve his position on legalizing marijuana, regardless of the issue’s popularity and the growing state-level reform movement. Perhaps one of the last hopes for advocates for the candidate to get on board before the November election is a criminal justice task force that was launched in partnership with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Most of the members of that group are in favor of legalization, and they will be making recommendations about various reform issues. It remains to be seen whether they will tackle cannabis policy, or if Biden would accept a recommendation to back legalization.