Why the heck isn't Biden ending the federal war on cannabis?

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

Joe Biden and the Democrats are in serious trouble. the the president’s approval ratings are in the gutter Y all the signs continue to indicate that your party will be pulverized this autumn.

It is not surprising. Biden enjoyed public support early in his presidency when he was actually doing things for the public (like economic stimulus and child tax credits). All of that is a distant memory now. The president and his spokesmen just speak about the ambitious legislative proposals that they presented with so much fanfare in 2021. And gasoline and food continue to get more expensive.

Under these circumstances, one would think the administration would rush to take any action it could possibly take that falls in the area of ​​overlap of the Venn Diagram of (a) promises Biden made during the 2020 campaign that (b) can be carried away carried out by executive action (the often recalcitrant Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema need not join in), and fundamentally (c), they are wildly popular.

And yet.

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Removing cannabis from Schedule I, the DEA classification for drugs with the highest risk of abuse and no medical benefits, and pardoning all federal prisoners serving time for nonviolent marijuana offenses would check all three boxes. Surprisingly, Biden has not.

promises promises

in a campaign ad which hit YouTube seven days before the 2020 election, Biden said, “As president, I will work to reform the criminal justice system, improve community policing, decriminalize marijuana, and automatically expunge all prior marijuana convictions.”

Not much wiggle room was left there. And while those first two items might have legislative components for which the standard excuses would apply, Manchin! Synema! The Republicans! The parliamentarian!—no one doubts that the last two could be done by Biden alone. Any day he decided to jump into this, he wouldn’t even have to take up his entire afternoon.

And yet.

When then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about this at a press conference on (ahem) April 20, the best he could say was that Biden was “continuing to review his clemency powers.” Oh, and did he mention that the DEA expanded the list from licensed manufacturers of cannabis for research purposes? Don’t forget that part!

Not only has nobody’s criminal record been expunged, but Daniel Muessig, for example, only started a five-year sentence in federal prison for non-violent marijuana offenses. Biden promised that he would free everyone in his situation, but Daniel’s wife, his parents and everyone else who loves him won’t be able to see him for five years. Morally, that’s outrageous. Politically, it is staggeringly stupid.

according to a Gallup poll last fall, 68 percent of Americans said they wanted to go beyond Biden’s promise. They want full federal legalization of recreational marijuana use by adults. The kinds of big dramatic steps in that direction that Biden promised would turn heads and mobilize the base (he has 83 percent support among Democrats), but best of all, it wouldn’t even be a potent issue to mobilize. conservative voters.

That poll showed slightly more Republicans for it (50 percent) than against it (49 percent). Other polls in recent years have put the Republican “for” number even higher. A bank survey in November 2019 it found that 55 percent of Republican-leaning voters favored legalization.

Hell, there’s even a case for it from a pro-business Republican perspective. Legal marijuana businesses could finally accept credit card payments.

Ignore an open target

There are plenty of popular things that Biden and Democratic leaders could have done at this point in the president’s term with a little more political will. they absolutely could have ignored the senate parliamentarian, for example, when that staff member, who issues non-binding opinions and could simply be fired at any time, told them they couldn’t use the conciliation process to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour a year and a half ago . . On 62 percent of Americans support that one. In addition, many low-income Americans would know that they owed their raise out of poverty to Democratic action, which could have helped the party stave off the looming election apocalypse.

But changing the administration’s weed policy would be even more popular and the fucking parliamentarian shouldn’t even be consulted. It’s a no-brainer. A goal wide open.

And yet.

In April, he was “reviewing” powers that no one anywhere doubts he has. (Seriously, if anyone has a novel legal theory that the president can’t declassify marijuana through executive action and pardon any federal prisoner he chooses to pardon, I’d love to hear it.) What happened in the last three months?

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Did Biden Just Forget? Unlikely. Just last week, three of the highest-profile senators in the Democratic Caucus — 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker — sent Biden a letter urging the administration to “use its existing authority to (i ) cancel cannabis and (ii) grant pardons to all persons convicted of non-violent cannabis-related crimes.”

You know, folks, it’s just as Biden promised, explicitly, more than once, and in so many words, he would do when he was running for president. It’s also how the vast majority of Americans want me to do it.

Biden was a staunch War on Drugs hawk for most of his Senate career. He is one of the villains in Radley Balko’s excellent book from 2014. The Rise of the Warrior Cop. Maybe in his heart of hearts he wants federal marijuana smokers to rot in jail. Yet if so, why did he promise to eliminate cannabis, pardon federal prisoners and expunge the records of ex-convicts when he was running for president?

It’s hard to see an answer to that question. other that “he knew it would be good policy.” It would be even better policy for him to do it now.

And yet.

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