WASHINGTON — When it comes to marijuana, President Joe Biden’s out of step with the nation’s veterans, most Democrats and even a growing number of Republicans.
While that has Democrats increasingly nervous, the president’s fierce opposition to a plant now legal in most states is confusing many on Capitol Hill.
“This should be the easiest thing in the world to support,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) told The News Station on the steamy steps of the Capitol Thursday. “I don’t understand it, but of course I didn’t understand it when we didn’t do it either.”
Last week Mark Upton — buckle up, he’s the VA Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Health for Community Care — testified, in writing, to the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee that his agency “does not support this proposed legislation.”
With Biden in charge of the VA, combined with some polls showing 90% of veterans support medical marijuana and Democrats itching to normalize the substance, Rep. Massie was left chuckling when told this administration hasn’t learned how popular cannabis is across America.
“I don’t understand why both parties are hung up on this,” Massie said. “The first one to do this without trying to turn it into politics — like the Democrats did with their [MORE Act] — the first one that just straight up does it without trying to jab the other party in the eye actually gets five points in the general [election]. It’s five points on a generic ballot for the first party that decides to put the nonsense behind them.”
“That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. I think it’s a little too early to really read the tea leaves.”Rep. Doug Lamborn after he was asked Biden’s stance on marijuana
While many rank-and-file Republicans are laughing at their party’s great fortune, all of Biden’s backtracking on campaign promises has some Democrats now voicing some fears.
“I hope we’re not going to turn anything back,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told The News Station of the Biden administration and cannabis policy.
As chair of the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus, Jayapal and others see this as a moment for the party to rally around this popular issue and unwind the half century long ‘war on drugs.’ In a sense, Jayapal and her caucus are heading in the opposite direction of the President.
“I’m really looking to see how we can move things forward,” she said after casting a vote on the House floor.
Other Democrats continue defending Biden on the issue despite his anti-marijuana policies. While progressives were nervous before, those nerves have become more frayed of late.
“This is one area where, even during the campaign, we didn’t quite get as far as we’d like to get to, so we still have some work to do there,” Jayapal said.
While Democrats on Capitol Hill don’t have a weed ally in the White House, they’re holding out hope Biden won’t use his veto pen to enshrine his prohibitionist stance in the federal books.
“Is the thinking kind of that, if the House and Senate are united, Biden’s gonna sign something…” I asked, as the congresswoman weighed in.
“Yeah,” Jayapal said.
“…but he’s not going to be an advocate?” I continued.
“Right. Correct. Correct,” Jayapal continued, “And we might have to negotiate. We may not be able to go as far as we want to go. It just depends.”
It depends on a lot. And that seems to stem from Biden himself.
“You have to know a little bit about Joe Biden,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told The News Station while walking across the Capitol grounds.
To Connolly, Biden’s resistance goes beyond his own son Hunter’s personal struggles with substance abuse — it’s embedded deeply in his being.
“When Joe Biden was in the Senate, narcotics control, drug eradication, dealing with the flood of drugs coming into the United States south of our border was a very big priority for him,” Connolly recalled. “He comes at this from his set of experiences, which are distinctly different than where I would say the Zeitgeist is on the subject today. He’s very wary of them.”
While conservatives don’t trust Biden, Connolly respects him deeply and expects him to put his personal feelings aside and govern based on science.
“There are some things, though, that you have to deal with irrespective of your personal views or your experience. So one of them is there is absolutely no scientific justification for the federal classification of marijuana, for example. It was made up in the Nixon years,” Connolly said. “That has to be dealt with honestly.”
The federal prohibition on marijuana is at odds with the majority of states which have legalized the substance, which Connolly sees as an in to get Biden to the negotiating table.
“This should be the easiest thing in the world to support. I don’t understand it, but of course I didn’t understand it when we didn’t do it either.”Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) on Biden’s anti-marijuana stance
“You can’t have this sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde policy,” Connolly argued.
That’s why Democrats continue to hold out hope that Biden will join the bulk of the party in normalizing marijuana.
“Joe Biden’s a smart man and understands, you know, over a lifetime that standards change, values change, culture changes – he’s not unmindful of that,” Connolly said. “It’s not like we’re dealing with some rigid and immovable force in the White House. But I think you’re going to have to reason with him. And, you know, I think we’re in for some serious and some healthy discussions about the subject.”
Many Republicans are also eager to join that discussion. Even conservatives who are dubious of recreational marijuana but who support more research into the substance — especially when it comes to the nation’s veterans — are wondering where this president stands on this popular substance.
“Do you think Biden’s pretty anti-cannabis?” I asked Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) just off the House floor.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that,” Lamborn replied, “I think it’s a little too early to really read the tea leaves.”