Article24 What Would a Biden/Harris Ticket Win Mean for Cannabis Legalization?
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By Rachel Heimann
Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden publicly announced yesterday that his running mate is California Senator Kamala Harris.
Harris is the first Black woman in California history to be elected district attorney, the first woman to be California’s attorney general, and now, the first Black woman to be picked as a vice presidential running mate on a major-party ticket.
Last month, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) told The Young Jurks podcast that Democrat lawmakers would be at a great advantage to pass their own version of a “New Deal” that includes comprehensive cannabis reform- if Biden won the election.
Roughly three-quarters of Democrats back this position, which is a reflection of shifting sentiments nationwide, with 33 states legalizing medical or recreational marijuana markets.
“I think what’s going to happen on so many issues is that Congress is a stimulus-response institution, and there’s nothing more stimulating to what’s happening out there—on climate change, on cannabis,” Markey said. “And after this election… we need to move on these policies and have our own 1933, our own New Deal.”
Markey added that lawmakers would “move very quickly” towards legalization regardless of where Biden stands on the issue.
Biden currently backs medical cannabis legalization, shifting marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II — a less restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act, expungements and allowing states to implement their own policies.
So, what does the future of cannabis legalization look like if the Biden/Harris ticket wins the election? Let’s take a look at Harris and Biden’s history and recent statements on the issue:
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Biden has been criticized on the campaign trail for his reluctance to take a strong stance on legalization and his past “tough-on-crime” policies, including his longstanding support for stiff criminal penalties as a senator.
During a debate last November, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) criticized Biden for walking back on statements that made it seem like he supported legalization. “This week I heard him literally say I don't think we should legalize marijuana. I thought you might have been high when you said it,” Booker said. “Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people. The War on Drugs has been a war on Black and Brown people.”
In February, Biden appeared to change his position on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. "I think it is at the point where it has to be, basically, legalized," Biden said in a recording obtained by POLITICO. In the recording, Biden also mentioned twice that he does not believe cannabis is "a gateway drug."
Biden responded to POLITICO regarding his comments on the recording saying that he felt like he was simply “restating his cannabis policy.” But his campaign did not respond to questions about his comment that cannabis needs to be “basically, legalized,” leaving Biden’s actual plans unclear.
Senator Kamala Harris
In February 2019, Harris told the hosts of The Breakfast Club radio show that she was “absolutely in favor of legalizing marijuana,” adding that we “have incarcerated so many — particularly young men and young men of color — in a way that we have not for the same level of use of other young men. And we’ve got to deal with that.”
Harris also said that we “need to move it on the schedule so that we can research the impact of weed based on a developing brain.”
She has restated these opinions via tweet, writing, “Let me be clear: it’s time we legalized marijuana at the federal level. Marijuana laws are not applied or enforced in the same way for all Americans, many whose lives have been ruined by these regressive policies. We must change the system.”
Harris is also the lead Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act.