New policy recommendations coming out of the Joe Biden campaign this week were met with swift criticism from advocates for not going far enough in ending federal prohibition of weed in the U.S.
In the wide-ranging policy document released Wednesday, Democrats proposed rescheduling cannabis on a federal basis, legalizing medical weed nationally and leaving it up to states to decide about recreational use.
The recommendations were penned by Biden’s “unity task forces” that his campaign created in April in partnership with former Democrat 2020 primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The idea behind the new panel was to bring in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party into the fold to increase the nominee’s chances of defeating President Donald Trump in the November presidential election.
According to a statement, the Biden-Sanders task force’s recommendations — which also tackle large issues like climate change, criminal justice reform, economy and education — will be submitted to the Democratic National Convention Platform Committee and to Vice President Biden directly.
The proposed cannabis reforms would take a more centrist approach compared to former progressive presidential hopeful Sanders’s legalization plan that would have ended prohibition outright.
Read more: Bernie Sanders unveils ambitious marijuana legalization plan
Apart from rescheduling cannabis through executive action, other suggestions in the document include: having all former cannabis use criminal convictions automatically expunged; ordering the federal government to not interfere or pursue prosecution of businesses and consumers in state-level legal markets; and encouraging states to invest tax revenue from legal industries to repair damage to minority communities hit hardest by enforcement.
Why the left feel they’re getting ‘rolled’ on pot legalization
While those changes would reform America’s current federal weed laws, long-time advocates remain skeptical that the proposals would bring the tangible policy changes that the majority of Americans support.
“It is impractical at best and disingenuous at worst for the Biden campaign to move ahead with these policy proposals,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a statement. “Rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act would continue to make the federal government the primary dictators of cannabis policy, and would do little if anything to address its criminal status under federal law.”
Rescheduling marijuana within the Controlled Substances Act is bad politics and bad policy.
Rescheduling is like going from treating marijuana like heroin and treating it like cocaine.
Say it with us: DESCHEDULE.
That is how we end cannabis criminalization.
— NORML (@NORML) July 9, 2020
NORML highlighted how Biden’s approach to weed reform is out of touch with public opinion.
A cannabis poll conducted by Pew Research Center last November showed 67 per cent of Americans support legalizing adult use nationwide. The survey also shows that 55 per cent of Republican-leaning voters support the initiative while 78 per cent of Democrats are in favour.
For many Democrats and political pundits, Biden is missing a major opportunity to unite his party. And for progressives and cannabis advocates, his years-long support for the war on drugs and harsh punishments for cannabis users actually gives the Democrats a disadvantage on the issue.
Read more: Democrat candidate frontrunner Joe Biden lukewarm on legal cannabis
Read more: U.S. presidential hopeful Joe Biden calls cannabis a ‘gateway drug’
Briahna Joy Gray, who worked as Sanders’s press secretary during his 2020 campaign run, was baffled by the Biden campaign report.
“Team Biden is demonstrating a mocking disrespect for voters — denying is even the bare minimum, even when it would help him win,” Gray said on Twitter. “There’s honestly no excuse for it.”
Meanwhile, long-time activist Steve DeAngelo tweeted, “Go back to the drawing board, Joe Biden.”
Not nearly enough. Go back to the drawing board @JoeBiden if you want cannabis voters to support you. We are no longer to be willing to be taken for granted by the Democratic Party. Ur living in the past, man. https://t.co/n66sHrcwJh
— stevedeangelo (@stevedeangelo) July 9, 2020
Scathing criticisms on the Biden campaign’s plan came from all corners.
“The left gets rolled on legalizing pot,” read a Politico headline in one of several opinion pieces critical of the policy recommendations.
But not all left-leaning voters were against the Biden camp’s proposals.
Writer and activist Charlotte Clymer noted on Twitter how legalizing medical cannabis and expunging criminal records would be a step in the right direction.
I think it's understandable that some folks are still unaware of this, but Joe Biden's platform already includes decriminalization of recreational marijuana, legalization of medical marijuana, and expunging criminal records. He's already there. https://t.co/DMb0XkbXZL
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) July 9, 2020
The U.S. presidential election is slated for Nov. 3 with Biden well ahead of Trump in the latest polls.
According to aggregated polling data provided by RealClear Politics, almost 50 per cent of voters support Biden and just under 41 per cent favour Trump.
Trump has stated in the media that cannabis legality for adults should be left up to the states.
Read more: Pandemic will boost US cannabis legalization, but not until 2021, expert says
Top image depicts former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaking with supporters at his presidential campaign office in Des Moines, Iowa in January 2020. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr creative commons