What a difference a decade makes. In 2010, there were a handful of U.S. states with legalized medical marijuana laws, but recreational use remained illegal across the country. In 2020, there are 11 states with full recreational legalization and only eight states where cannabis remains fully illegal, even for medical use. But despite the progress on a state level, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic on the federal books. This means that as far as the feds are concerned, marijuana is absurdly considered just as dangerous as heroin.
Getting marijuana off the Schedule 1 list has been the ultimate goal of cannabis activists because even if local cops won’t bust you for possession or cultivation, the DEA can swoop in anytime, anywhere, and haul you off to jail. So while boasting the most progressive platform ever to grace a national ticket, where do the Democratic nominees for President and Vice President stand when it comes to marijuana reform? The answer is promising for cannabis advocates—but still complicated.
Full legalization unlikely
The Democratic National Committee rejected an amendment to add federal marijuana legalization to its 2020 party platform. While Presidential nominee Joe Biden has not said he officially opposes legalization, he seems to favor decriminalization as a first step. His campaign released a detailed “Plan for Black America” to reverse some of the damage from the War on Drugs’ disproportionate impact on Black Americans, including decriminalizing the use of cannabis and automatically expunging all prior cannabis use convictions. The plan would also remove federal enforcement in states that have legalized cannabis, and take marijuana off the Schedule 1 list, reclassifying it to be treated on par with alcohol and nicotine.
Biden is open-minded, but hesitant
Biden’s hesitancy to fully legalize marijuana could be the product of generational attitudes toward the drug, but in his own words, he believes there should be more research into cannabis and its potential long-term health effects before declaring it safe enough to be legal. In an interview with The Breakfast Club podcast in May 2020, Biden said, “they’re trying to find out whether or not there is any impact on the use of marijuana, not in leading you to other drugs, but what it affects. Does it affect long term development of the brain and we should wait until the studies are done.” Biden said he thinks “science matters,” and funding federal research into cannabis studies would be a great place to start the legalization process.
Incremental reform more realistic
Instead of full legalization if/when Biden takes office in January 2021, narrower, targeted legislation is where cannabis advocates will see the most meaningful changes to federal policy. Congress already passed the MORE Act in November 2019, which would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the War on Drugs. The legislation would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.
Along with hundreds of other House-passed bills that have gone to the Senate to die under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, the MORE Act will have to wait for a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House to be signed into law. And though as a Senator, VP nominee Kamala Harris did not vote on the bill, she publicly supported it, tweeting that “times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime. We need to start regulating marijuana and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.”
Harris evolves with the times
Though many progressive Democrats are side-eyeing Harris’ nomination based on her history as a tough-on-crime District Attorney and state Attorney General, her stance on cannabis has evolved significantly since 2010, when she opposed Prop. 19—California’s first stab at full legalization—calling it a “flawed public policy.” Fast-forward a decade to 2020, when she marked weed’s unofficial 4/20 holiday by tweeting further support for the MORE Act, urging the Senate to pass the bill because “too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.”
The reaction to Biden and Harris’ nominations might be mixed among cannabis activists, but most of them seem to believe that the alternative is much worse. One Oregon-based legalization advocate declared on Twitter, “Sigh. Well, it’s them or literal Nazis.”
Celebrate your Prop. 64 freedoms at Balboa Ave Cooperative
Thanks to the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, Californians can enjoy their cannabis fully and legally for recreational use. At Balboa Ave Cooperative, we have a huge selection of flower, concentrates, edibles and more to choose from, and we also welcome medical patients with proper documentation. For more information, give us a call at (858) 598-5004.