Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t officially entered the Democratic primary yet. But if he does, he’ll have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to actual policies rather than just talking up his ties to the Obama White House and claims of appeal to the Democratic base. And on marijuana, this is especially evident.
Among the Democrats who have already declared their candidacy and those likely to, Biden is a clear outlier. As the rest of his party clamors to support legalization of recreational marijuana, Biden still seems to be questioning medical marijuana.
Indeed, just last week Biden applauded medical marijuana opponent Bertha Madras as she criticized the medical applications of the drug. The other panelists at the University of Pennsylvania event kept their hands in their laps.
Several recent studies have shown the utility of medical marijuana and it is widely accepted in the medical community. Politically too, medical marijuana has support, with 33 states and the District of Columbia legalizing its use. Even President Trump, despite his drug-warrior picks for attorney general and his unclear support for recreational marijuana, has said his support for medical marijuana is “100 percent.”
Voters too have voiced broad support for recreational marijuana. Ten states have legalized its use and nationally a majority of the Americans support marijuana legalization.
That puts Biden, who made tough on crime bills a centerpiece of his legislative career, decidedly out of touch. Indeed, there’s little evidence that Biden’s stance on marijuana has changed much even as Democrat’s views have broadly shifted. In 2013, for example, even President Barack Obama took a lenient stance on states legalizing recreational marijuana, Biden explained that he “supports the president’s policy” but was quick to note “That’s different than [legalization].”
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Biden would come out in favor of legalization if and when he enters the race. But such a quick reversal in his long-standing policy would do little to reassure voters. Even Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who has clearly stated her support for legalization, has been dogged by criticism of her work as a prosecutor and previous opposition to the drug.
Biden’s potential candidacy has animated Democrats looking to retake the White House. But even as he gets a pass for (somewhat) creepy invasions of personal space, he’s likely to face much more scrutiny on his policies. And when it comes to marijuana, “tough on drugs” Uncle Joe is going to be a hard sell for a party that’s clearly moving in a different direction.
[Related: Pro-pot activists not sure they trust 2020 Democrats claiming to favor legalization]