Joe Biden’s Ugly History With American Drug Policy

By Zachary Siegel 09/03/15

Longtime supporter of draconian drug laws, the potential 2016 candidate has a lot to explain.

Joe Biden
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Though Vice President Joe Biden’s run for the 2016 presidential election remains speculative, his history of being a staunch drug war supporter with a “tough on crime” attitude doesn’t bode well among voters concerned with both drug policy and criminal justice reform.

Below are only three of many major drug policy blunders Biden has been responsible for:

  1. He was among the primary architects behind the disparity in crack versus powder cocaine sentencing. Up until 2010, when the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was finally done away with, if you were caught with a mere five grams of crack you were subject to a mandatory minimum of five years in prison. That’s the same sentencing for being caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine. Biden co-authored this bill, which carries a legacy of pathologizing African American communities and disproportionately jailing them.
  2. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed off on the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, for which he recently apologized. “I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” he said. “And I want to admit it.” The problem he is referencing is mass incarceration, which put money in the pockets of private prison owners. This bill happens to be one of Biden’s signature pieces of legislation. "Joe Biden should apologize—just as Bill Clinton did—for his role in mass incarceration, and he should champion systemic change,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. 
  3. Biden’s ardent stance on drug crime extends itself well beyond U.S. drug policy. His long-armed foreign policies have wreaked havoc in Central and South America. Biden still touts success citing reductions in cocaine production throughout Columbia, while neglecting to mention that cocaine manufacturing has simply migrated south to Peru and Bolivia. His global war on drugs has not only wasted billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives have also been lost. 

For 30 years, Biden’s potentially well-intentioned efforts to reduce crime and drug use have failed. Recently, his tone has softened and he is demonstrating a willingness to re-think his positions. If he does decide to run, Biden will have a lot of explaining to do.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.