From 2017 through 2019, Gallup Polls saw support go from 64 to 66%, and now it’s at 68%. It’s come a long way from 1969, which was when Gallup first began measuring public support for the drug. Back then, only 12% of Americans supported its legalization.
Now, the people want cannabis legalized more than they want a $15 minimum wage nationally, to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, or creating a system for undocumented immigrants to become American citizens. This is according to a new poll conducted by Emerson College, entitled “Opinions on National Policy Proposals,” which was done from February 2-3. They surveyed 1,429 adults on various topics being debated on the political spectrum.
They also found that the support for cannabis legalization declined with older adults, with majority support across all age groups included in the survey except for seniors aged 65 and up. The results showed that 38% of respondents in the older age group agreeing that cannabis legalization would be beneficial, while a massive 79% of respondents aged 18 to 29 saying the same, and 67% of those aged 30-44 supporting it.
So, what are the chances that full legalization is going to happen under the watch of President Biden?
Federal cannabis reform is, after all, one of the primary campaign promises he made though he was initially sending out mixed messages on whether he would support it or not. “The truth of the matter is there’s not been nearly enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Biden told voters just in late 2019 during a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally; I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it,” he says.
In his past career, Biden has been notorious for his anti-drug stance as well as supporting drug offense-related mass incarceration.
Last July, aides of the president disclosed to The Atlantic that Biden is already up to date when it comes to the plant and its health benefits but he wasn’t ready to commit until he saw more evidence supporting it. “He’s looking for something definitive to assure him that legalizing won’t lead to serious mental or physical problems, in teens or adults,” writes the report.
It’s critical that it happens sooner rather than later because of the ongoing opioid epidemic, and doing so would result in the reduction of addictive and harmful opioid consumption. Legalizing cannabis on the federal level would also make medicinal cannabis and cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals a good business opportunity.
And even if the federal government sees cannabis as one with no medical value, a majority of US states have already legalized it for recreational or medical use, or at least decriminalized the possession of the drug. Millions of Americans around the country are already cannabis patients, using it for dozens of conditions ranging from glaucoma to Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and so much more.
We know that President Biden as well as VP Kamala Harris support drug rescheduling and it would then allow states to create their own laws around it while decriminalizing adult use and expunging cannabis convictions. After all, it was Biden who authored the 1994 Crime Bill, an infamous law that added the penalties for drug crimes, which was effectively recognized as a major reason for mass incarceration especially when you take into consideration the already existing anti-drug bills that arose out of the 80’s. For this reason, Trump referred to Biden as the “architect” of the drug war.
But Biden says that all his work on anti-drug laws were a ‘mistake’.
Just rescheduling cannabis from a Schedule I substance will already solve many major issues that the cannabis industry is facing. For one, it would allow producers to claim some of their business expenses and save on taxes that way; not being able to do so has crippled many legal cannabis businesses and significantly reduced their profits and margins. But rescheduling is not enough to solve all the ills of the industry; they still are unable to use banks, and with cannabis still a federally illegal drug, all dispensaries throughout the country will still end up violating the Controlled Substances Act. To quote, Biden did say that he was going to “reschedule cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.”
Unfortunately, the president needs the powers of Congress to help him reschedule AND deschedule cannabis. “It is Congress that imposed the federal prohibition of marijuana and ultimately it is up to Congress to repeal this destructive and discriminatory policy,” explains Keith Stroup, legal counsel for NORML.
“I think the Biden administration agrees with us, at least on the piece of expunging past records,” said Maritza Perez, the Drug Policy Alliance’s director of Office of National Affairs. “At this point, this is something the administration cannot ignore; this administration and this Congress have to do something.”
Congress still has the opportunity to take initiative on decriminalizing cannabis, especially if Biden won’t do it. While it’s still a wait-and-see, at least Biden has already come around to remove penalties for those convicted of cannabis possession while supporting clearing records for people who have been punished for these crimes. But given his long track record of advocating punitive drug policies, we can’t help but still have questions on what actions he will be taking even if a majority of the American public already embrace legalization.