Biden's Bad Example

International observers have been captivated by President Biden’s announcement of a pardon for federal marijuana offenses. Anita Krepp, a Brazilian journalist, quoted me on the subject. Unfortunately, the example set by Biden for countries is not ideal. As the president stated, “no one should go to jail just because they use or possess marijuana.” It is fine for other countries around the globe to release those who are currently in jail for possession or use offenses.
Biden’s overall approach towards cannabis is the problem. The administration’s cannabis policy seems to be an adjunct to its criminal justice agenda. Biden seems to be focusing on “marijuana Reform” when he talks about the War on Drugs. The pardon and the calls that came with it are a step in the right direction.
However, this “reform” does not appear to allow for the development or legalization of adult-use cannabis. Biden does not appear to see a place in legal medical cannabis, although he did call for reconsideration of the scheduling of marijuana. This could indicate that he wants to open up legal space to medical use. Biden did not mention medical cannabis in his announcement. It is more likely that rescheduling was being done to soften the legal consequences of cannabis-related activities.
All those in American jails for cannabis offenses, federal and state, could be released. However, this will not change the status quo when it comes to normalizing cannabis business activities. The federal government must make peace with state-legal activities that are arguably not allowed to be regulated by the feds. Descaling marijuana is the best place to start. Next, it is necessary to formulate a commonsense approach for the regulation of cannabis foods and drugs. Biden has not indicated that he is making progress in this direction.
The administration’s play seems politically safe. Recent polls show that 65% of Americans support pardoning nonviolent cannabis offenders. The 58% who believe cannabis should be legalized is true. The 58% is likely to include respondents who don’t think it should be illegal to use cannabis but are not ready to go to the cannabis cafe at the strip mall. Those who support legalization and decriminalization are likely to make up 58%.
As we’ve said before,
As calls for legalization grow around the world, support for decriminalization-only has become a popular hedge for politicians, who presumably figure they will come off as having a sensible, middle-of-the-road position. There should not be any marijuana stores, and no one should be put in jail for using it.
Subject to scrutiny, however, decriminalization-only is a vacuous and counterproductive approach. It does not reduce cannabis consumption but it deprives society tax revenues and creates jobs. A lack of legal means to obtain cannabis keeps profits in the wrong hands and prevents the state engaging in constructive regulation to promote safety and health (such as labeling cannabis products properly).
Although Biden’s announcement might be seen as a step towards decriminalization, legalization is still not on the table. This is a disservice to marijuana entrepreneurs and a pointless repudiation of an industry that is creating job opportunities and increasing tax revenues (and could even do more). This is not the right way to set an example for the rest of the globe by making this U.S. policy. Instead of leading the development of a cannabis industry, the United States will encourage the adoption of contraproductive approaches to cannabis.


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