Former Vice President Joe Biden has not been swayed by the fact every other Democratic presidential candidate front-runner has declared their support for federal marijuana legalization. On Saturday at a Las Vegas town hall, the politician said that he still didn’t feel he had “nearly enough evidence” to figure out whether marijuana was a “gateway drug” that leads to the consumption of harder illicit substances.
That’s actually a softening of his stance from earlier eras. Biden is known by many as one of history’s primary architects of the United States’ War on Drugs. Over a 40-year Senate career, he promoted draconian criminal justice policies that targeted nonviolent drug users and contributed to the U.S. having the world’s largest prison population.
In July, the candidate published his criminal justice platform, which many saw as an attempt at atonement for a past spent raising incarceration levels. It included plans to abolish the death penalty, private prisons, cash bail, and certain kinds of juvenile incarceration.
But he’s still not willing to let go of some of his Reefer Madness-like views of cannabis.
Taking a Cautious Stance
“It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally,” Biden told the Nevada crowd. “I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
Biden has stated that he is in favor of marijuana decriminalization and that he would re-schedule cannabis,but would put it in the same category as cocaine and methamphetamine—Schedule II—which includes strictly-regulated pharmaceuticals and requires a years-long FDA clinical trial process. Cannabis industry representatives say such a plan could be the end of the weed business as we know it in the United States, and that it would prioritize large-scale drug companies. He is also in support of automatic expungement for past cannabis possession-related offenses.
Though the former vice president believes that U.S. residents should have access to medical cannabis, when it comes to recreational use, he is less than convinced.
“It is not irrational to do more scientific investigation to determine, which we have not done significantly enough, whether or not there are any things that relate to whether it’s a gateway drug or not,” the candidate said.
Biden finds himself in the minority in his reluctance to support cannabis legalization. Fellow Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have all voiced full-throated support of regulation.
Being pro-legalization, in fact, seems to be the will of the people of the United States as well. The latest data from Pew Research Center found that a shocking 91 percent of U.S. residents support legalizing either medicinal or recreational cannabis, while 59 percent of respondents want recreational marijuana legalized. Perhaps the most crucial variable when it comes to people’s views on the issue boil down to age: 48 percent of people 65 years or older support recreational legalization, compared to 69 percent of those 18 to 29.