Joe Biden and Marijuana

What is the relationship between Joe Biden and marijuana? Heading into the second quarter of a highly-troubled election year, many Americans’ hopes for a brighter future are pinned on the Democrat Presidential candidate-presumptive: former Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden. Having received an endorsement from his last primary competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders, Biden now has the task of uniting the Democrat coalition around a policy direction that has been hotly contested, to say the least. One area in which Biden has taken a lot of criticism is regarding his approach to marijuana.

Joe Biden on the Legal Status of Cannabis

Oddly for a candidate who built a great deal of political capital out of his outspoken support for the War on Drugs in the 90s, Biden’s current approach to legalizing marijuana has been woolly. It is on record that he opposes recreational use of marijuana, and in November 2019 Biden courted controversy by alluding to the view that it has been considered a gateway drug. He insists that more research is needed to determine whether the plant is harmful before he will reverse the policy of national drug control for recreational cannabis. However, he is in favor of federal legalization of medical cannabis. He does, it should be said, regard it as a flawed tool unworthy of a ‘humane society’.

Joe Biden on the Cannabis Industry

At present, the national status of cannabis is clearly at odds with the states where recreational cannabis is permitted: states that comprise nearly one-fourth of the US population. Cannabis is the only Schedule I drug with state-legal markets in the country. A major pillar of Biden’s cannabis policy is the rescheduling of cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II. However, this reclassification will not do anything to resolve its legal status, nor makes it more accessible to researchers. Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine, or methamphetamine, can also be illegal.


For the marijuana industry, rescheduling is an insufficient measure. It has been criticized as pandering to the anti-drug lobby, as not being based on science, and as being anti-business. Industry leaders and academics both have criticized cannabis rescheduling, warning that it would undermine the extant legal marijuana industry by enshrining the substance’s research and development as a solely pharmaceutical endeavor. Rescheduling as Schedule II, and federal enforcement of those standards, would lead to the shutdown of all present state-legal activities. For business to continue as normal, the cannabis industry would need to lobby for an exemption along the same lines as those that the alcohol and tobacco industries currently enjoy. Many small businesses would be pushed out, consolidating the control of the industry between a handful of corporations. This would likely lead to a negative effect on employment and tax income for affected states. Sean Donahoe, an Oakland, California-based cannabis industry consultant, says “His stance is to blow up 90 percent of the existing regulated and traditional market…shows [Biden’s] fundamental worldview is framed through a corporate lens with no regard for existing operators, nor good public policy.”


Joe Biden on the War on Drugs

The Democrats in general are in favor of criminal justice reform to correct the trend of federal mass incarceration, which began in the 1970s but escalated in terms of drug-related prison sentences in the 90s and early 21st century. Joe Biden’s marijuana policy involves decriminalizing marijuana use, automatically expunging prior possession convictions, and deferring to states with regard to rules about recreational use. This is a considerable departure from his previous stances on marijuana as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he drafted and supported federal drug legislation that was ‘tough on crime’, including advocation of civil asset forfeiture. His ostensible goal was to combat drug trafficking and a burgeoning crime wave. He worked with the Reagan administration to establish the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which rapidly soaked up more and more federal funding, and the role of the ‘drug czar’.


Perhaps his change of heart on these issues is because his children have been speaking to him about their own experiences. In 1998, his daughter Ashley Biden was arrested in Louisiana for possession of marijuana, though appeared to evade any serious legal ramifications. His son Hunter Biden was discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine in 2014.

Is Marijuana a Battleground Issue for 2020?

There’s no denying that marijuana is more popular than ever in 2020. Many are turning to cannabis during the pandemic to make social distancing more tolerable. Legalization is a popular position both in swing states and with swing voters. A national poll found that every state in the union supported federal legalization, with the weakest support being 55% in North Dakota, and the strongest being 79% in Oregon and Washington. Swing voters are also in favor. Those who voted Gary Johnson in 2016 support legalization by a ratio of 3:1; Jill Stein voters, closer to 4:1. If Joe Biden adopts the legalization policy line that 7 in 10 of his party’s voters want, the policy line he has come under pressure to adopt from younger, more left-wing groups within the Democrat party, he could well capture the swing votes that Hillary was unable to. This may be marijuana’s moment. Ironic as it may seem, Joe Biden might become the 46th President of the United States, borne on a cloud of cannabis smoke.


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Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal. The cannabis industry is subject to rapidly evolving laws, rules and regulations, and increasing competition which may cause such companies to change business model, shrink or suddenly close. These may limit access to banks, and create significant burdens on company resources due to litigation, enforcement actions, receipt of necessary permits and authorizations to engage in medical cannabis research or to otherwise cultivate, possess or distribute cannabis. Possession and use of cannabis is illegal under federal and certain states’ laws, which may negatively impact the value of Fund investments. Where legalized by states, cannabis possession and use remains a violation of federal law. The companies in which the Fund invests are subject to various laws and regulations relating to the manufacture, management, transportation, storage and disposal of cannabis, including health and safety, conduct of operations, and environmental protection. Even if a company’s operations are permitted under current law, they may not be permitted in the future, and a company may not be able to continue operations in its current location. Controlled substance legislation differs significantly between countries and may limit a company’s ability to sell products.

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