Ever since Joe Biden announced his 2020 presidential run, the former Vice President has been the object of intense scrutiny. Questions around Biden’s criminal justice record has drawn serious criticism, in addition to establishing himself as the only prominent Democratic nominee not gung-ho around cannabis reform. And thanks to a newly surfaced video clip from Mother Jones, the latter point of contention isn’t going away anytime soon.
As a United States senator and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1989, Biden was scheduled for a talk with students about how the country nominates and confirms federal judges. At one point, a student asked Biden about legalizing and regulating cannabis “like booze.”
“It is a legitimate argument, one which I reject,” Biden responded.
The then-Senator explained that “you cannot be a recreational user” of “certain [other] drugs,” unlike alcohol. He lumped “synthetically produced, mind-altering drugs or cocaine or heroin or marijuana” together, conceding legalization would reduce the profits and violence associated with the drug trade, but questioned “significant moral hurdle” this reform would cause the government.
“Is it proper and legitimate for a government to take an action which we know expressly will lead to the mental and physical demise of an individual?” Biden asked. “I say no.”
Now, it’s important we parse Biden’s comments here. He’s including coke and heroin, as well as marijuana, in his statement about “the mental and physical demise of an individual.” His belief those drugs were all bad agents wasn’t out of step with many uninformed politicians and citizens at the time, who also likely didn’t differentiate between the ills of heroin and cannabis.
That’s not the problem here. The issue, as Mother Jones points out, is that Biden’s views and policy ideas around cannabis haven’t really evolved since that day in 1989. At a time when his competition, including President Donald Trump, have opened the door to varying levels of cannabis reform, all while educating themselves on the plant’s potential efficacy as medicine, Biden remains stuck in the past.
“If this is an issue that you care about, there couldn’t be a worse candidate to support at this moment than Joe Biden,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Mother Jones.
“He feels like a relic of a different era when you listen to him talk about marijuana issues,” Altieri added. “Just in the past several years, he’s reiterated that he believes marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to harder drugs and that he thought legalization was generally a bad idea.”
While advocates hope Biden will eventually change his tune on cannabis reform, or at least join us in 2019 with the current research and statistics indicating the potential positive effects of decriminalization, the former VP is making it all too clear he isn’t the guy for marijuana advocates.
As Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “fundamentally he’s someone who cannot be trusted on this issue.” He also added: “I would not be confident that Joe Biden…would select somebody who would be open-minded on marijuana policy as attorney general.”