Where does our President really stand when it comes to marijuana

First 100 Days: Will the Real Joe Biden Please Stand Up (on Marijuana) Already?

Mr. President,

I know you’ve had a lot on your plate in your first 100 days, and I’m extremely thankful to now have one shot of the Pfizer vaccine in my body. But some confusion has surrounded your stance on marijuana that only you can answer.

So I have a simple question for you: What’s your stance on marijuana?

Not sure if you remember me from some 13 years ago – back when you were on Amtrak daily and nightly, while busy at the Capitol in between – but I covered you for WHYY in Philly.

I always knew you as friendly, knowledgeable, intense (think you only McCain-ed me with an expletive once or twice, but like when your boy John cursed us in the press corps out – it’s a four-letter badge of honor) but, mostly, honest.

So, may I kindly and respectfully ask you, will the real Joe Biden please stand up?

Then you went and cleared the decks of five staffers who’d used cannabis. That personally hurt, and not just because I’m currently a cannabis user. It felt like you’d see no use for me in your administration. If you — the President of the United States of US — won’t hire people like me…, what’s our use in American society? 

We know you’ve been opposed to marijuana throughout your career, including in the early stages of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. But then you seemed to change on the subject – at least with your words – when you moved from labeling marijuana a “gateway drug” to quietly endorsing “decriminalization.”

But since entering the Oval Office, you’ve been awfully quiet on cannabis. So other people have been putting words in your mouth.

After I dropped “No One Knows Where President Biden is on Marijuana” back in March, Kevin Sabet of ‘Smart Approaches to Marijuana’ (aka SAM) DM-ed me while laughing.

“Hey Matt I hope you’re well – saw your latest piece,” Sabet messaged about the aforementioned article. “Not sure why people don’t know where he stands bc it’s clear he’s against legalization.”

“And the ‘I don’t know’ is a way to just dodge the issue,” Sabet continued via DM. “It also reflects the low priority of marijuana issues.” 

While Sabet and SAM are convinced you’re fully opposed to cannabis legalization and don’t care about decriminalization, in her last week in Congress, your new and historic Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, told me she doesn’t know where you are on the topic.

“No,” Haaland told The News Station after she testified under oath in her Senate confirmation hearing that, “I honestly don’t know what President Biden’s stance is on cannabis, currently.”

Others in your administration have also been tongue twisted by what seems like a simple question: Where are you on the effort to legalize or decriminalize or even normalize marijuana?

Last July, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The News Station it was “embarrassing” to watch the DNC backpedal on marijuana when you and your team seemingly directed the party to move from endorsing “legalization” of marijuana back in 2016 to merely supporting “decriminalization” in 2020.

“It’s embarrassing that this is not on the Democratic platform. The Democratic platform on this issue is more conservative than it was in 2016,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the time. “I mean, it’s so backwards, right?”

Then you went and cleared the decks of five staffers who’d used cannabis. That personally hurt, and not just because I’m currently a cannabis user. It felt like you’d see no use for me in your administration. If you — the President of the United States of US — won’t hire people like me (a professor at some of the nation’s best academic institutions and scribe for our top publications), what’s our use in American society? 

And marijuana use is nothing compared to my past. In my life, I’ve used cocaine, LSD, heroin, crack, pills (as in all the deadly stuff approved by the FDA you now run, prescribed by my doctors and ripping holes in families from coast to coast), shrooms and meth, etc. – none of which I’m proud of and some of which almost killed me (being homeless, sickly, broke and desperate to merely survive while a late teen was hell on earth and something I hope to steer others away from). 

But god, I’m perpetually thankful there was life for me after Hades. Life you seem to have stripped your young staffers of. Why? When did you stop believing in redemption, Mr. President? 

Sir, there are millions like me. They’re Americans. They’re my family. They’re your son. They’re my friends, some of whom are in early graves. They’re your former Senate colleagues. They’re also your former White House staffers — the ones you pushed out, even as the presidents who came before you did what they did and much “worse.” 

To let you in on a secret: they’re also your current staffers (I can teach you about passing drug tests, good sir) — from the Pentagon and State Department to Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug administration, even the Centers for Disease Control.

They’re your barber. Your Amtrak conductors. Your chefs. Your baristas. Your favorite artists. Again, sir, they’re Americans. 

We’re just trying to survive and thrive, whether we’re consuming Diet Coke or cocaine. We’re the citizens you swore an oath to protect; no matter what substances are — or are not — currently (or formerly) in our bloodstreams.

God, I’m perpetually thankful there was life for me after Hades. Life you seem to have stripped your young staffers of.

Still, you have your defenders – well, “defenders” may be a stretch (unless we’re talking about the anti-marijuana group SAM, which views you as their ally — a feeling your silence has only bolstered).

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, is behind you and has hope you’ll “do the right thing.”

“I think that there is an effort by this administration to do what they said,” Blumenauer told The News Station of your administration in late March. “And a draconian, inflexible policy would deny government service to lots of people, including the Vice President. I just don’t think that’s, you know, I don’t think that’s the intent. And I don’t think they’re going to do that, and I think they’ll be able to get it right.”

Even there, you’ve left a loyal Democrat and a founder of the cannabis caucus wondering – “I just don’t think” and “I think” – where you are and what you’d actually sign into law.

I’m fully with Rep. Blumenauer. That’s why I wrote this.

I know you as a blunt, no bullshit lawmaker. So that’s why I’m merely writing to ask: Will the real Joe Biden please stand up? 

If you’re opposed, the nation – including the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of our neighbors currently incarcerated or the other hundreds of thousands who have had their lives ruined by the permanent stain of a past conviction on their records – deserves to know.

And if you’re in favor, maybe you should tell that to your fellow Democrats.

I’d never try to sway you, because I’m not an advocate. Just a curious – though currently clueless – and perpetually pesky journalist.

Sincerely,

Matt Laslo

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