If the Democrats win the Senate and White House in November, Congress will legalize marijuana even if the party’s presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden remains opposed to the measure. At least, that’s the take of a top Democratic US senator.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) made the remarks in an interview on The Young Turks podcast when asked a series of questions relating to marijuana reform. He told the host, Mike Crawford, that should the Democrats command a majority in both chambers of Congress, the party will have the votes to pass legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.
“From my perspective, this is another issue that’s just right there on the ballot in November,” Markey said. “We’ll move very quickly in January to change these laws to make sure that there are national protections which are put in place. But unfortunately, Trump controls the discretionary use of these personnel, and they’re kind of committed to keeping this crazy non scientifically based analysis of marijuana front-and-center.”
Markey was then asked about Biden’s stance on legalization, arguing that many potential supporters could be put off by the former vice president’s opposition. As a senator, Joe Biden pushed for mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses and even recently described cannabis as “gateway drug”
In recent years, Biden has softened on the issue. He now advocates for legalizing medical cannabis, decriminalizing possession, federal rescheduling, expungements and letting states determine their own adult-use laws without federal interference. Compared to any previous major-party nominee for the presidency, Biden’s marijuana reform proposals are undoubtedly the most comprehensive. Yet his previously punitive approach to drug legislation and his insistence that more research into marijuana’s long-term effects is required before considering full legalization provokes suspicion among potential supporters.
For Markey though, what Biden thinks about cannabis legalization may not ultimately make all that much difference.
“We’ll have the majority of the votes in the United States Senate,” Markey said. “And I know [Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)] has moved in that direction, he’ll be the majority leader in January. I think we’ll have votes to just move it, and the science has moved there.”
After Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Joe Biden, the two established joint working groups on various issues, including criminal justice reform. Given Sanders’ outspoken, long-term support for marijuana legalization, some hoped this would lead to the task force recommending the measure to Biden. Instead, while some members of the criminal justice working group said decriminalization does not go far enough, the group ultimately issued a series of reform proposals more in line with Biden’s current position.
Markey remains optimistic though that with a Democratic majority in Congress and Biden in the White House, there’s a chance to pass ambitious legislation along the lines of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933.
“All issues go through three phases: political education, political activation, political implementation. We’re now through the political education on climate and marijuana, we’re into the activation stage, and in November, implementation,” he said.
“We win the election and then we begin to just legislate on the floor on Medicare for All on Green New Deal, marijuana—just to move the country, legislatively, to where it already is operationally in their lives and what they want to see happen.” Sen. Ed Markey’s home state, Massachusetts, legalized adult-use marijuana in 2016 with the first dispensaries opening for business two years later.