As the 2020 presidential election race heats up, candidates are making their views public on just about every issue, including the legalization of cannabis. Some Democratic candidates, like Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, and Elizabeth Warren have made clear that they will legalize cannabis and commute cannabis-related criminal sentences if elected. Other candidates, like the current President Donald Trump have been less clear on how they plan to handle cannabis policy all while spouting cannabis myths. One Democratic frontrunner who has been silent on the issue of cannabis legalization until recently is former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden Resurrecting Dangerous and Outdated Narratives
Speaking about cannabis at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Biden said, “The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug.” He added, “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
What Biden’s goal was when making such a mis-informed statement is unclear. It is likely that Biden is trying to reach voting Americans who aren’t in favor of cannabis legalization but his outright denial of the best available science about cannabis and the proclivity to consumer other, more harmful drugs is dangerous. The theory that cannabis is a “gateway drug” has put millions of Americans in jail during the war on drugs and denied thousands of patients the right to access a medicine that may improve the ailments that negatively impact their lives.
Though Biden’s comments were reckless, he has said that he is in favor of medical cannabis legalization and decriminalizing cannabis possession. Those policies are important steps forward for the national government, but they do not reach nearly far enough. More importantly, Biden has made clear what his personal views are when it comes to cannabis legalization. A president who sees cannabis as a “gateway drug” is far less likely to take the necessary leadership that is needed for a national legalization movement.
Research Over Rhetoric
During his campaign event, Biden mentioned the need for more research before it can be determined whether or not cannabis is a “gateway drug.” Biden is actually correct about the need for more research, it’s his reasoning for that request that is outdated and dangerous. Cannabis research is desperately lacking in America. Due to the federal illegality of cannabis, researchers have to jump through a number of hoops in order to conduct any sort of meaningful study into the plant, its compounds, and their effects.
Though there is a lack of knowledge related to cannabis, there is research that disproves Biden’s narrative about cannabis being a “gateway drug.” A 2002 RAND Corporation study found that, “it is not marijuana use but individuals’ opportunities and unique propensities to use drugs that determine their risk of initiating hard drugs.”
In fact, there are a number of studies that lay waste to the false notion that cannabis is in any way a “gateway drug.” A number of people actually use cannabis to help themselves recover from addiction to other more potent drugs. There is even evidence that cannabis has a potential to help mitigate the effects of the crippling opioid crisis in America.
The War on Drugs has already cost America billions of dollars and millions of lives all while being unsuccessful at accomplishing its goal of curbing American drug consumption. Cannabis myths like the one that former Vice President Biden recently rehashed claiming cannabis to be a “gateway drug” only continue to create baseless fears about it and other drugs that stigmatizes recreational and medical cannabis consumers alike.
Lane is based in Southern California and is a content curator for Medical Marijuana 411. He focuses his research into finding informative stories that can help medical marijuana patients better understand their diverse medicine.