Something unusual happened that month: Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer stood up against President Joe Biden.
The New York Democrat, usually a strong ally of Biden, has become one of the Senate’s biggest supporters for marijuana legalization, which Biden continues to speak out against. But Schumer said he would go ahead with his legalization bill anyway.
“I would like to present my arguments to him, as many other proponents do,” said Schumer. “But at some point we’ll move forward, period.”
Schumer is likely at least partially concerned about a primary left-wing challenge in the future – something that MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has openly discussed.
But for Biden, there is a bigger problem here. Increasingly, the president is inconsistent not only with his party but also with the country and perhaps even most Republicans on marijuana legalization.
Marijuana legalization is extremely popular. Gallup and the Pew Research Center, two of the country’s leading electoral organizations, have consistently found that at least two-thirds of Americans support legalization.
The support is so high that at this point in time a majority of Republicans – who are generally more skeptical of drug policy reforms – could support it. Pew found 55 percent of Republicans support legalization. Gallup noted that a slim majority of Republicans supported this in 2017, 2018, and 2019. This was reversed in 2020, but the difference between support and opposition among Republicans was still within the margin of error. In any case, there was a solid minority of 48 percent behind it.
Democratic support is in the polls in the high 70s and 80s.
Perhaps Biden doesn’t fully trust the polls – after 2016 and 2020, many of us don’t. But there is also real evidence that legalization is very popular.
For one, 17 states have now legalized marijuana, most recently New Mexico. Of the 15 states that have legalized marijuana since 2012 (when the state of Colorado and Washington were first legalized), it was won in 13 states.
Even more impressive is the recent record of marijuana in the Republican states. Since 2012, the legalization of marijuana has been up for a vote in four states, which former President Donald Trump won double-digit in 2020. She won in three of these states (Alaska, Montana and South Dakota) and lost in one (North Dakota). Weeds are 3-1 in deep red states.
So what could explain Biden’s opposition? Based on his public statements, he appears to be genuinely conservative on the matter – he is only advocating decriminalization (which removes the risk of jail or jail time for possession, but continues to sell illegal) and calls for “more scientific research” in this matter, specifically whether pot is a “gateway drug”.
After all, Biden not only endorsed, but led many of the country’s current drug war policies. In the 1980s and 1990s, he assisted in the writing of bills that tightened federal criminal penalties against all types of drugs. Biden has since admitted to having gone too far, at least in some ways, but this is where he built his early political career.
The failure of this policy to halt major drug problems – the country is currently in its deadliest overdose crisis ever – the opioid epidemic – and the punishment of these policies are reasons that the public has turned to support the legalization of Marijuana has relocated. And the real evidence for legalization suggests that it is working well, even leading governors in legalizing states should endorse it on a regular basis.
But Biden is not convinced, even if his party moves forward without him. With a veto pen in hand, that could make the president the biggest obstacle to legalization.