Where Joe Biden Stands On Marijuana

By Paul Gaita 05/22/19

Biden is one of the few Democratic presidential candidates that opposes legalization. 

Joe Biden

High Times detailed 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden's position on marijuana policy, which embraces decriminalization and federally supporting cannabis research—but stops short at legalization.

Biden, who as a U.S. senator helped to pass punitive drug crime bills that he has since described as "a big mistake," supports rescheduling marijuana as a Schedule II drug, allowing states to determine their own laws regarding legalization, and expunging prior marijuana possession convictions. 

But Biden has opposed legalization in the past and continues to do so as a presidential candidate, which places him opposite fellow Democratic contenders like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris on that issue.

A campaign spokesman for Biden, who told supporters in New Hampshire on March 16 that "no one should be in jail for smoking marijuana," clarified the candidate's position in a statement to CNN. "Vice President Biden… supports decriminalizing marijuana and automatically expunging prior records for marijuana possession, so those affected don't have to figure out how to petition for it or pay for a lawyer," said Andrew Bates.

Bates also noted that Biden "would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization and would seek to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana's positive and negative health impacts by rescheduling it as a schedule 2 drug."

As CNN noted, Biden supported decriminalization efforts as vice president under the Obama administration. In a 2014 interview with Time, Biden said, "I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources." But he added that legalization was outside of the administration's policy stance. 

At the time of that interview, Biden had earned a reputation as a hardliner on the War on Drugs, supporting tougher penalties and prison sentences for drug offenses, including the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which imposed more severe sentencing for possession of crack cocaine than its powder form.

The bill, which led to disproportionate rates of incarceration in African-American and Latino communities, was later described by Biden as a "big mistake" which "should have been eliminated."

Biden's support for decriminalization and other measures is shared by two other presidential hopefuls: former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and Senator Sherrod Brown.

The majority of the other 2020 Democratic candidates, including Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, all support marijuana legalization.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.