In recent years, it's been full speed ahead for the marijuana movement. To our north, Canada became the first industrialized country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana this past October. Meanwhile, to our south, Mexico legalized medical weed in June 2017 and looks poised to become the third country in the world to OK adult-use pot by before this coming October. Globally, more than 40 countries have waved the green flag on medical cannabis.
But in the U.S., we have something of a mixed bag. At the public level, an all-time record number of Americans wants to see adult-use weed legalized, according to Gallup's national survey. Yet at the federal level, marijuana remains firmly classified as a Schedule I substance, which means it's entirely illegal, is highly prone to abuse, and has no recognized medical benefits.
Complicating matters further in the U.S. is that there's no consensus among politicians about what should be done, if anything, at the federal level about cannabis. This has especially come to light during the early stages of the 2020 presidential race.
As the Democratic Party nears two dozen declared and likely candidates for the presidential nomination, one somewhat common theme among the prospective front-runners of the group is their support for legalizing marijuana, or at the very least passing legislation that would keep the federal government's nose out of the affairs of legalized states. No fewer than six Democratic presidential hopefuls have voiced their support for the green rush, which would align with the public's opinion, via polls.
The media roasts presidential candidate Joe Biden's anti-cannabis stance
However, not everyone in the Democratic Party is apparently on board with the cannabis movement, according to a number of publications. Over the past two weeks, since announcing his candidacy for the Democratic ticket, numerous slants have been written about former Vice President Joe Biden's anti-marijuana stance. Forgive me if I'm excluding any publications, but Marijuana Moment, Rolling Stone, Salon, Washington Examiner, and Leafly have all roasted Biden for his previous record on drug reform.
Marijuana Moment, with the most thorough of these write-ups, goes through an almost manifesto-like list of policy actions proposed by Biden since roughly the mid-1980s. This includes the introduction of the Narcotics Control Act of 1986, the Federal Crime Control Act of 1989, and the National Drug Control Strategy Act in 1990. The theme among many of Biden's drug proposals was for considerably harsher sentences for major illicit drug players -- and that included cannabis -- as well as increased government involvement in taking illicit drugs and drug distributors off the streets.
In particular, cannabis enthusiasts and the public have homed in on the following quote from the former vice president, who, when asked if he would support the idea of legalization, responded:
I still believe it's a gateway drug. I've spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize.
You're missing something very important regarding Biden's views on marijuana
Seems like a pretty cut-and-dried opinion on cannabis, right? Well, just hold your horses.
What a lot of people are overlooking right now is that that quote comes from 2010, and many of Biden's "War on Drugs" policies were proposed between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, when support for cannabis legalization regularly stood at between 23% and 25%, per Gallup. Biden's marijuana stance may have been harsher than those of most politicians at the time, but for decades it aligned with the values of the American public.
Just as important, we don't have any recent or direct quotes from the Democratic front-runner for the presidency on what his current stance is on cannabis. Though it would be easy to simply assume that Biden's stance on marijuana hasn't changed, that's probably not the case.
As noted by Marijuana Moment, in 2014 Biden was asked about whether he supported legalization. Although his answer was "no," he did add that "the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources." He went on to say that he supported President Obama's policy of federal non-intervention in allowing states to decide the future of cannabis via the Cole memo.
Additionally, in January 2019, Marijuana Moment notes that Biden apologized for his hardline drug stance from decades earlier. Said the former vice president: "I haven't always been right. I know we haven't always gotten things right, but I've always tried."
To Yours Truly, this suggests a significant softening in Biden's stance from the mid-1980s.
People change, and Biden's stance may have, too
Furthermore, it's not as if we haven't seen hardline opponents of cannabis change their tune before.
Former Republican Speaker of the House (2011-2015) John Boehner was about as anti-marijuana in the late 2000s, as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was until his departure this past November. But Boehner has had a change of heart. Once suggesting he was "unalterably opposed" to decriminalizing marijuana, Boehner announced in April 2018 that his "thinking on cannabis has evolved," and that "de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities."
Then again, Boehner didn't simply have a change of opinion and leave it at that. He wound up joining the board of advisors for Acreage Holdings (NASDAQOTH:ACRGF), a multistate, vertically integrated dispensary operator. Since joining the board of advisors, Acreage has expanded its current and future license footprint to 20 states, assuming the closure of announced but pending acquisitions, and recently announced that Canopy Growth had earned the right to acquire the company for $3.4 billion, if the federal government ever legalizes cannabis. With a retail footprint that could hit roughly seven dozen stores, Acreage has grown into one of the largest pot stocks by market cap.
Aside from Boehner, Gov. John Hickenlooper (R-Colo.), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have all reversed course on once condemning cannabis to praising the green rush.
The point is that Biden's drug record from 30 years ago, or even his commentary from nine years ago, isn't necessarily indicative of his opinion today. The cannabis industry evolved very rapidly this decade, and there's the real possibility that Biden's opinions on marijuana may have evolved, too. We'll have to wait until we get concrete commentary from Biden himself before casting judgment. But for the time being, the presidential front-runner shouldn't be considered the death knell for the U.S. marijuana industry and pot stocks that he's being made out to be.