President Biden recently announced he is pardoning all people convicted of simple marijuana possession on the federal level. It's a decision that is likely to be popular among Democrats and could energize their constituents in time for the midterm elections.
Follow the Leader
Biden's choice to grant these pardons – and encourage state governors to do the same – could change the lives of thousands of Americans convicted of marijuana possession. If governors follow the President's lead, even more people's lives have the potential to be changed.
The move could also feed into Republicans' claims that Democrats are soft on crime; claims that have a direct effect on the outcome of elections in key swing states this November.
The issue of legalizing marijuana will be central in several key campaigns this fall. Supporters of legalization say the President's move is a positive step forward, but it is only one step. He has not gone so far as to legalize the drug.
The President is also asking the Justice Department to review how the drug is categorized in federal law. He believes it is currently mis-classified at the same level as harmful substances such as LSD, heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a video. “It’s legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences.”
Officials on both sides of the aisle usually vehemently deny that their decisions and moves are motivated purely by politics.
There's no question that Biden's intentions regarding marijuana possession are a campaign promise being fulfilled. The fact that he made the announcement right before midterm elections leaves no doubt that it is motivated primarily by politics. Especially given Biden's own Senate record of writing and voting for tough-on-crime anti-drug laws.
Black Americans are more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Biden hopes the upcoming pardons will please civil rights and criminal justice reform advocates. It's also meant to entice younger voters to the polls. That demographic is much more open to recreational marijuana use, and simultaneously less likely to vote, especially in midterm elections.
Weed for Everyone
Marijuana is becoming increasingly socially acceptable and even popular. Multiple states have ballot initiatives coming soon, or laws already on the books regarding some form of legalization.
A Gallup poll found that, for the first time, more Americans are smoking weed than tobacco cigarettes. 16% of Americans said that they smoked weed in the preceding week, while only 11% said they had smoked a tobacco cigarette.
The National Institute of Health reported this past August that marijuana use among young adults had reached an all-time high. 43% of young adults say they have used weed over the past year in 2021, which is an increase from 34% in 2016 and 29% in 2011.
Gallup also found that 68% of Americans want marijuana legalized for recreational use. This statistic suggests that there will be bipartisan support for Biden's involvement in the marijuana debate.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 19 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The organization goes on to say that they would like to see that number increase. “Legalizing and regulating cannabis for adults has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue and created tens of thousands of jobs. It has also displaced the criminal market and freed up law enforcement resources to focus on serious crime. Meanwhile, teenagers’ cannabis use rates haven’t increased, and voter support has grown.”
More Ammo for Republicans?
President Biden's decision will undeniably affect some of the midterm election campaigns, even this late in the game. Republicans will use the announcement to bolster their argument that Democrats are anti-police and soft on crime. A spokesperson for Texas Governor Abbott's campaign office had this to say about the recent developments:
“Texas is not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from the leader of the defund police party and someone who has overseen a criminal justice system run amuck with cashless bail and a revolving door for violent criminals.”
Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian advocacy group, praised the President's decision and emphasized that the marijuana issue is a bipartisan issue at the end of the day.
“We should prioritize criminal justice system resources on protecting life, liberty, and property, not incarcerating people who are not a threat to public safety,” said AFP Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Brent Gardner.
“Congress must act to end prohibition,” he concluded.
Step by Step
The House passed a bill back in April that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The bill has now been pushed to the evenly divided Senate, where decision-making has stalled. It appears Biden opted to wield executive power on this issue, rather than waiting on lawmakers.
Opponents of the legalization of marijuana argue that aside from the potentially negative side effects, marijuana can also act as a gateway drug that can lead to further substance abuse that could escalate to criminal behavior.
The DEA Weighs In
A fact sheet produced by the DEA states that short-term effects of marijuana include “problems with memory and learning, distorted perception, difficulty in thinking and problem-solving, and loss of coordination.”
Long-term use “…can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal following discontinuation, as well as psychological addiction or dependence.”
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.