On January 20, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take over the leadership at the White House at a time in which the U.S. is experiencing a number of unprecedented and catastrophic events. From the ongoing global pandemic to record unemployment numbers, loss of homes, loss of life, calls for racial justice and equity, economic collapse, deep ideological divides, and distrust in the nation’s democratic systems compounded by the words and musings of the outgoing President, it is clear that President-elect Biden and VP-elect Harris will be inheriting numerous burdens.
The recent election cycle has indicated that many progressive policies have generated growing popularity across the nation. Earlier in November, voters in five more states approved either recreational or medical cannabis legalization measures. With Inauguration Day swiftly approaching, how might a Biden/Harris administration approach cannabis legalization? Their past legislative and justice records may offer hints.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) says a Biden-Harris administration would decriminalize marijuana and expunge marijuana use convictions: “This is no time for incrementalism ... there needs to be significant change in the design of the system.” pic.twitter.com/578RmQjKcS— The Recount (@therecount) September 14, 2020
President-elect Biden has faced sharp criticism for the 1994 Crime Bill, which he authored. In an ABC Town Hall prior to the election, Biden expressed support for the decriminalization of cannabis, and defended aspects of the Crime Bill, including funding drug courts rather than the conventional court system for certain substance-related cases.
“I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use. They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation,” Biden said. “We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed.”
“We should decriminalize marijuana,” he added. “Wipe out the record so you can actually say, in honesty, ‘have you ever been arrested for anything?’ You can say ‘no’ because we’re going to pass a law saying there is no background you have to reveal relative to the use of marijuana.”
It's time we decriminalize marijuana use. #BidenTownHall— Team Joe (Text JOE to 30330) (@TeamJoe) October 16, 2020
It is also worth noting that cannabis reform was not included in the Biden/Harris transition plan on racial equity.
The stock market responded positively to the Biden/Harris election victory, though. CNN Business reported earlier this month that “Canopy Growth surged 10% and Aurora Cannabis jumped 20% after both reported higher-than-forecast sales and narrowing losses. Tilray… was also up 10%.”
“We believe the Biden win is an important step on the path to federal permissibility of cannabis in the U.S. market through decriminalization and descheduling,” said Canopy CEO David Klein on a conference call with analysts.
“The results of the ballot initiatives clearly showcase that support for adult-use marijuana legalization extends across geographic and party lines and is supported by a majority of Americans. Legal marijuana is becoming the American norm,” he added. “This will likely increase pressure on Congress to pass major federal marijuana reform in the very near future.”
Senator, former prosecutor, and now Vice President-elect Harris is the lead Senate sponsor of The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, alongside House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler. The purpose of the Act is to federally legalize cannabis and allow states to expunge the records of those convicted with cannabis-related crimes.
“Passage of the MORE Act is essential in order to truly right the wrongs of federal marijuana criminalization. It is time for the Democratic Party to adopt the marijuana policy reform platform that is currently articulated by Senator Harris’s MORE Act,” said NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal.
“Should the Democratic-led House take action in the coming months to pass the MORE Act, it would demonstrate to voters that they, like the super-majority of Americans, recognize that the time has come to end the failed policy of marijuana criminalization,” added Strekal. “Federal marijuana prohibition was implemented in 1937 explicitly out of racial animus. This criminalization is not, nor has it ever been, an evidence-based public policy. It’s time for this country to do better.”
It is apparent that a Biden/Harris administration’s approach to cannabis issues will be vastly different from that of the current leadership. While the outgoing President has in the past voiced support for continuing to allow states to handle their own cannabis legalization measures, he has unsurprisingly contradicted his past statements.
Prior to the final day of election voting, Leafly reported that the President’s reelection campaign called for Mississippi activists to stop citing his support for the proposed medical cannabis legalization initiative in the state.
To promote Initiative 65, the group Mississippians for Compassionate Care paid for a Republican-signed letter sent to expected voters.
“Join President Trump and 3 out of 4 Mississippi Republicans who support medical marijuana,” the letter’s envelope read. “President Trump Supports Medical Marijuana… and allowing states to decide on that issue.”
Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of the President’s reelection campaign, followed up by sending a cease and desist letter to the group.
“This unauthorized use of the President’s name in support of your group’s cause is unfair to Mississippi voters who may be led to vote ‘Yes’ on Initiative 65 on the false belief that President Trump supports the measure,” Glassner wrote. “Therefore, let us be clear about this: President Trump has never stated his support for passage of Initiative 65 or the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi.”
At a 2015 rally, the then-Presidential candidate said: “I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I mean I think so. I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason, the marijuana really helps them.”
“And then I believe you should leave it up to the states,” he added.