What Biden’s Weed Plan Really Means

Biden’s bombshell weed announcement is both bigger and smaller than it might seem. On Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden announced that he would be pardoning some federal convictions for marijuana possession and urged states to do the same. He also asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to initiate a review of how marijuana is classified under federal law. “Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives – for conduct that is legal in many states,” Biden tweeted. “Today, we begin to right these wrongs.”

Reschedule marijuana would be a huge victory against the cruel and pointless drug war; likewise if state possessions are pardoned. But both of these things are, at the moment, merely asks.

Biden’s one concrete action (which, to be fair, is the only part of this equation he has the power to unilaterally do) will have a much smaller effect, since relatively few people were prosecuted under federal law for marijuana possession in the first place. And none of the 6,500 people expected to be pardoned are currently in prison, a senior administration official told reporters. Biden’s pardon order also excludes convictions for people who weren’t citizens or lawful permanent residents at the time of their arrest, which limits its effect even further.

So, in immediate and practical terms, Biden’s order amounts to a few thousand people who are already out of prison having their past convictions erased—not nothingbut ultimately a very small dent in undoing the personal damage done by decades of marijuana criminalization and prosecution.

But perhaps Biden’s announcement is also bigger than its immediate and practical effect. We shouldn’t ignore the rhetorical weight of the president of the United States coming out full force against the criminalization of marijuana possession. Sure, he’s several decades behind many Americans on this front, but it was a time not too long ago when it seemed like folks in power would never get here.

All things considered, Biden’s announcement is still an unequivocal good and should be commended.

It does leave a lot to be desired, however. Pardoning people convicted for marijuana possession at the federal level is a good step; stopping the criminalization of marijuana possession more generally—and the criminalization of marijuana sales—would be better. Reason‘s Jacob Sullum points out that'[d]espite his pardons, simple marijuana possession is still punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail under the Controlled Substances Act,” and “growing or selling marijuana are still federal felonies.” Moreover, “cannabis consumers who own guns likewise are still subject to stiff prison sentences—a policy the Biden administration is defending in court.”

And it’s important to note that This modest and overdue marijuana penalty relief is coming amidst a massive drug war crisis of an entirely different nature. If we’re talking about steps that would have the most immediate impact on mitigating the negative effects of drug prohibition, we should be ending policies that exacerbate the fentanyl overdose crisis—like making it extremely difficult to get opioid painkiller pills and for heroin users to buy products not laced with fentanyl.

Instead, we’ve got Biden making sure to add that “as federal and state regulations change, we still need important limitations” on marijuana sales and marketing. And we’ve got lawmakers all over looking to repeat the negative effects of pot prohibition tactics, whether that’s through crackdowns on substances like delta-8 THC or authorizing draconian punishments (including the death penalty) for selling fentanyl.

A truly revolutionary drug policy would look more like this:

A number of people in Congress have not only applauded Biden’s move but called for things to go further. “Next, let’s legalize cannabis and put an end to years of failed policy once and for all,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.).

“Today is a huge step forward in the fight to restore lives destroyed by the criminalization of cannabis,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.). “A review by HHS of how cannabis is scheduled is welcome, but those of us who have been advocating for reform, we already know that a comprehensive federal solution is needed. Legal protections for victims of the War on Drugs should be codified in law, cannabis should be rescheduled and a federal regulatory system should be put in place to protect public health and safety.”

“Today’s announcement from the White House recognizes two truths: that continued and complete federal cannabis prohibition is no longer the will of the American electorate, and that the President knows his party’s all-or-nothing approach to cannabis reform has failed to produce results in Congress,” said Rep. Dave Joyce (R–Ohio), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, in a statement. “The President has acted. Now it’s time for Congress to do the same.”


FREE MINDS

The anti-social media brigade is now targeting Roblox and Discord. A new lawsuit against Roblox, Discord, Facebook, and Snapchat indicts the companies of “contain[ing] unique product features which are intended to and do encourage addiction… to the detriment of their minor users.” It’s part of a wave of activism that blames internet platforms for young users spending too much time or doing foolish things on them.

“The suit is one of many brought against large social media companies. But comparatively few of these have covered Discord and Roblox, both of which are popular with young users,” notes The Verge:

The Social Media Victims Law Center filed the suit on behalf of a 13-year-old girl identified as SU, who began using Roblox around age nine. SU was allegedly contacted on Roblox by an 18-year-old user who encouraged her to join him on Discord, Instagram, and Snapchat. The suit claims the communication led to a “harmful and problematic dependence” on electronic devices that damaged her mental health, while the 18-year-old encouraged SU to drink, send explicit photos, and engage in other harmful behavior. In 2020, SU allegedly attempted suicide.


FREE MARKETS

24 million immigration cases caught in limbo. The Cato Institute’s David J. Bier looks at immigration backlogs in a new paper. Backlogs “comprise roughly 24 million cases across the US government,” Bier writes. His paper “demonstrates that backlogs are not isolated within certain portions of the system but are rather a systemic and growing problem for all four departments responsible for executing US immigration law. It also shows that except for visa processing, backlogs have not arisen primarily from COVID -19 shutdowns. Instead, they are a consequence of inefficient agency processes that have caused wait times and backlogs to grow during the past decade.” More here.


QUICK HITS

• “A New York federal judge has temporarily halted parts of the state’s new gun law that required social media account reviews for gun owners and made it a felony crime to carry guns in several public and private places,” notes The Daily Beast.

• “Federal agents investigating President Biden’s son Hunter have gathered what they believe is sufficient evidence to charge him with tax crimes and a false statement related to a gun purchase,” The Washington Post reports.

• Black women are making up a growing share of US gun owners.

• San Francisco residents suggest legalizing prostitution; the city says they’ll send more cops after sex workers and send people solving sex workers to reeducation classes.

• Twitter’s edit function is here:

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