Biden, at risk with young voters, is rushing to change marijuana policy

(Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Biden, at risk with young voters, is rushing to change marijuana policy

Homepage News,Elections 2024,Cannabis,Kamala Harris

Noa Bierman

March 26, 2024

Vice President Kamala Harris looked up from prepared remarks in the White House’s ornate Roosevelt Room this month to make sure reporters in the room could hear her clearly: No one should go to jail for smoking weed .

Harris’ marijuana reform roundtable was a striking reminder of how politics have changed for a former prosecutor who grew up in the Just Say No era of zero-tolerance drug enforcement. As President Biden

looks for much needed bleeding

support from young people, his government is counting on cannabis policy as a potential draw.

to lure.

Biden made similar comments to Harris in this month’s State of the Union address, although the 81-year-old president used the term marijuana instead of pot. The administration is highlighting its decision to grant clemency for marijuana possession as it races to have cannabis reclassified under the Controlled Substances Act before Biden faces voters in November.

The good thing about this issue is that it is crisp and clear and sinks in clearly, he said

Lake Celinda

, one of Biden’s 2020 pollsters who also works for the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform, an industry group, along with Democratic organizations supporting Biden’s reelection. And it’s hard to get voters’ attention in this cynical environment.

The challenge is significant. Biden is viewed positively by only 31% of people between the ages of 18 and 29, much worse than he does among other age groups, a recent study shows.


Economist/YouGov Survey.

Although he has a 21 percentage point lead over former President Trump in that age group, he will need high turnout to repeat his 2020 formula.

Biden’s age

and the war in the Gaza Strip has done that too



played a role in alienating a group that is both vital to Democrats and historically harder to energize than older voters, who turn out to the polls more consistently.

Furthermore, the biggest step Biden is taking is incremental and not under his complete control. The president


wants regulators to move marijuana from a Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive category of drugs that also includes heroin, to Schedule III, a still highly regulated group of drugs that includes anabolic steroids.

That decision is now under review by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which has historically opposed looser drug laws and has typically taken many years to review such rule changes within the law, which has been in effect since then.

1970. 1971.

Even if the DEA agrees, that doesn’t mean marijuana is legal nationally, something that frustrates some cannabis advocates.

In the year 2024, it is reasonable to expect more from a Democratic president, he said

Matthew Schweich

executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit organization that works to loosen laws at the local, state and federal levels.

Schweich said he was concerned about that

former president

Trump returns to office


but believes that Biden has done the bare minimum and missed a political opportunity to push for legalization in Congress and advocate for the complete removal of marijuana from the list of controlled substances, which


Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and 11 other Democratic senators urged it in a letter to the DEA in January.

Trump, whose administration threatened federal enforcement against localities and states that had implemented legalization


Marijuana is unlikely to gain support from legalization advocates.

Polling Lake has done for the industry shows that even the incremental step Biden is seeking could boost his


by as much as 9 percentage points among younger voters in battleground states. But it is hardly certain


that would play out.

A campaign official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, said marijuana policy is among the issues the campaign believes will motivate young people, important but not as prominent as the top issues, including

issues such as

affordability of universities, reproductive rights, the economy, the climate and healthcare.

The campaign warns against treating young people as a monolith, noting that they are concerned about a variety of issues and tend to see connections between them. Democrats are trying to convey to young people through a variety of methods, including social media influencers and a newly launched campus outreach program, that Biden is fighting for equality and change, while Trump is looking backwards.

They note that young voters proved critical not only in Biden’s 2020 election, but also in the 2022 midterm elections, when concerns about democracy and abortion rights helped the party


perform better than expected.

Overall support for legalization now stands at 70%, the highest


recorded by Gallup, who started asking the question in 1969, when only 12% of Americans supported legalizing marijuana

The drugs

. The fabric I

It is legal in 24 states and Washington, D.C., for adults, and a total of 38 have made it legal for criminalization of medical use in 26 states plus the District of Columbia, while two dozen states and several territories have made it legal

according to the National Organization for


Reform of Marijuana Laws, a legalization advocacy group.

The administration has presented its marijuana agenda as part of its broader efforts to change other criminal laws and to improve employment and business opportunities for people who have spent time in prison.

Lake argues that the two combined efforts could help Biden

African American men Black men

another group for which he has lost significant support since winning the 2020 election.

Padilla said he still regularly gets questions about marijuana regulations, even though California was the first state to pass a medical-use law in 1996. “It resonates with a lot of people,” he said.

In practical terms, reclassifying marijuana changes little. The federal penalties would remain the same, although the Justice Department has treated most marijuana crimes as low-priority prosecutions for decades. It would remain illegal to transport marijuana across state lines, meaning access to banks and financial markets would remain a hurdle even for companies operating in states

with legal pot.

who have legalized marijuana.

The biggest difference is that scientists and doctors would be able to more easily study the drug for medical use, something that is now virtually banned. Such a change could open the door to greater acceptance. It would also reduce the tax burden on the industry in states where it is legal, by allowing deductions for ordinary business expenses currently prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service.

Other possible changes are less certain. For example, banks and credit card issuers would not immediately lift restrictions on marijuana transactions, although that could happen if Treasury Department regulators decide to take up the issue, according to

Shane Pennington

a lawyer specializing in the Controlled Substances Act who has clients from the industry.

Biden proposed reviewing marijuana’s status in October 2022, a process that typically takes an average of more than nine years, Pennington said. The Department of Health and Human Services recommended Schedule III in August, the first step toward change. A DEA spokesperson said in an email that the agency would not discuss the matter while it is under review.

It often takes a very long time, but this was unprecedented territory due to the order


came directly from the president, Pennington said.

Harris showed her impatience in her roundtable discussion on marijuana reform.

“I can’t stress enough that they need to get on it as soon as possible, and we need a resolution based on their findings and their assessment,” she said.

The hasty nature of the trial could expose the government’s actions, almost certain to subject lawsuits to further investigation.

Kevin A. Sabet

a former marijuana policy adviser in the Obama administration and head of an anti-legalization group, noted that Biden’s Health and Human Services Department


issued its preliminary recommendation, jargon for the time of smoking weed, at 4:20 p.m., underscoring the political nature of a normally button-down regulatory process. He argued that the decision was poorly made and that this was possible


violate U.S. treaty obligations.

But Sabet also agrees with advocates that Biden could have gone further.

I think what the president wants to do is take advantage of the benefits of the man who embraces all these things without


is actually becoming a supporter of legalization, says Sabet, head of the Smart Approaches to Marijuana group.


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