President Biden is not “too busy” to carry out the atrocities of the drug war
‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s column of opinion on cannabis politics and culture.
As we near his administration’s three-month mark, President Biden’s cannabis policy has so far been defined by inaction and casual error. Cannabis is so absent that the White House’s official list of priorities for first year drug policy, published April 1, is no joke and yet it is also a joke that doesn’t even mention the word “cannabis”.
The firing of five White House employees for past cannabis use sent a message: the stigma, contempt and arrests will continue on Biden’s watch.
What’s happening? Earlier this week when the San Francisco Chronicle Vice President Kamala Harris asked about the legalization and said, “We haven’t adopted this yet” because the White House has focused on “getting shot in the arms” and other important things. “It was all consuming,” she said.
Fair enough. The Biden / Harris team scored 150 million shots in 150 million guns in 75 days – a huge achievement that deserves great praise.
However, governments are designed to address many problems at the same time. The federal government employs more than two million people. Not everyone works on vaccine logistics. In fact, many of them spend their days committing the worst atrocities of the cannabis ban.
Kamala Harris has slowly moved on with legalization, but now it’s all about her
Waste of time, senseless shots, cruel punishments
Some of President Biden’s direct reports have wasted valuable days last month dismissing five White House employees for being honest about their past cannabis use – a political end in itself that made no sense to exactly anyone.
Other Biden workers continue to ruin lives by imposing what we would call human rights violations if they happened overseas. Last month, the US attorney in Massachusetts who works for Biden’s attorney general sent a plumber from the Boston area to federal prison for 12 years. As Leafly’s Dave Howard noted, the plumber’s crime was neither murder nor assault. It grew weeds without a license.
That same month, Allen, Texas police arrested Marvin Scott III for minor cannabis possession. Four hours later, Scott died in police custody after being suffocated, sprayed with pepper and blinded with a restraint hood. The only reason Marvin Scott was in police custody – the only reason he was killed – was because of the two ounces of weed police he found in his pocket.
This is done under Biden’s command
Federal law did not directly cause Marvin Scott’s death. But there is a strong chain of custody running from the White House in Biden to the death of a man in a cell in Texas.
That custody began with President Biden’s decision to fire five employees for consuming a product that is legal for all adults in 17 states. The power of the president is expressed in words and symbols as well as in politics and law. The dismissal of the Biden Five sent a clear message from the President: These people are unworthy of my trust.
These layoffs reinforced a program of racism and enforced stigma that the federal government had been running since the 1930s. Congress banned cannabis in 1937 based on Harry Anslinger’s bag of racist beans. Since then, this unjust federal criminalization has been confirmed by convincing generations of Americans that people who enjoy cannabis are dirty criminals who get what they deserve. In the 1980s, DARE taught children to report their pot-smoking parents to the police. In the 1990s, the Clinton White House secretly paid television producers to portray cannabis users as strateless losers.
In the 2020s, President Biden fires White House staff and treats plumbers who grow weeds like killers.
America’s war on drugs has been racist for a century
Stigma is the ground on which cruelty thrives
Through his actions, Biden sent a nod and wink to police officers across the country and gave them the green light to arrest 545,000 Marvin Scotts each year.
Cannabis stigma kills. It killed Marvin Scott. It killed Philando Castile. It killed Keith Lamont Scott.
He provided political cover to his old Senate friends, allowing them to halt legalization laws and continue the worst atrocities of the failed war on drugs. Less than three months into his tenure, Joe Biden continues the vicious narrative that stigmatizes cannabis users as immoral, unclean, seedy, and dangerous.
Cannabis stigma kills. It killed Marvin Scott. It killed Philando Castile and Keith Lamont Scott. The Minneapolis policeman who shot Castile said the alleged smell of marijuana from Castile’s car made him fear for his life. Fear for His Life: The idea is absurd for anyone who has really enjoyed cannabis. But for many who have been trained by the government, it makes sense to fear marijuana and vilify the millions of ordinary people who use it.
75% of Americans can handle a ban
Fortunately, more and more Americans are awakening from eight decades of government deception. Three-quarters of registered voters now believe the federal ban should end, and 17 states have legalized cannabis for all adults.
It is time for President Biden to see the ban on what it is – and recognize America’s hardworking, law-abiding cannabis users for who we are. We are decent people who deserve the same respect and dignity as people who for some reason choose not to enjoy cannabis.
Enough with the stigma. Enough with the layoffs, the arrests, the reputation smears and the police killings. End the federal ban now.
Is President Biden Busy? Sure. All presidents are. But while dealing with other issues, more than 545,000 Americans are unnecessarily and pointlessly arrested each year. Some, like Marvin Scott, die during these arrests.
His chance to act is coming soon
Perhaps Biden is waiting for Congress to take the lead on legalization. If so, he will have the chance to reaffirm his support for real reform soon enough. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is preparing a comprehensive legalization bill that can be passed later this month. This is expected to be the next iteration of the MORE bill that the House passed but failed in the Senate late last year.
Joe Biden created this mess years ago as a young senator who believed he was doing the right thing. But it was a mistake. Its crime laws opened America’s age of mass imprisonment. He has been a driving force behind the loss of civilian wealth, mandatory minimum sentences and the militarization of our police force.
As Schumer’s bill moves forward, President Biden will have the opportunity to correct these mistakes and atone for his misguided work.
So far he has decided against it. He’s busy, they say.
Joe Biden’s drug war record is so much worse than you think
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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