Although “Dank Brandon” memes proliferate on your timeline, remember that President Biden has supported America’s War on Drugs for decades; he even wrote many laws that helped establish a punitive criminal justice system for marijuana offenders.
On Thursday, Biden announced on Twitter that he would pardon anyone convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law. The move was cheered by the majority of people (not everyone, though – Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas called it a “desperate attempt to distract from failing leadership”). GOP Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina wrote, “Applaud the administration for the big step needed to bring justice to so many people.” Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy group funded by David and Charles Koch, issued a statement praising the Biden administration. Democratic gubernatorial candidates Beto O’Rourke and charlie christ pledged that, if elected, they would follow Biden’s lead and expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana-related offenses in Texas and Florida, respectively. And Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman took a break to hammer his opponent Dr Oz to tweet, “This is a BFD and a massive step towards justice. Thank you, Mr. President.
Some activists have pointed out that the number of people affected by the federal pardons, which will only apply to those convicted of “simple possession of marijuana”, will be relatively small – around 6,500 people, none of whom are currently incarcerated. . Stephanie Shepard, head of partnerships with the nonprofit group Last Prisoner Project, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison as a first nonviolent offense, but her case will not be affected because her charge was of conspiracy to distribute. “Any time anyone gets any relief from the collateral consequences of the war on the factory, I’m happy,” Shepard says. “Having a crime follows you and impacts your life in many ways. Unfortunately, I don’t know of anyone in federal prison for “simple possession.” No one has been released from prison following President Biden’s announcement.
And then there’s the fact that Biden was instrumental in shaping federal policy as an anti-drug crusader who escalated mass incarceration in the nearly four decades he served as a U.S. senator. He has touted his “tough on crime” policies since the 1980s, when he advocated for a massive increase in federal funding for the war on drugs. “Few politicians have done more harm in America’s drug war than the former senator from Delaware,” Leafly wrote in 2019, as Biden was still mulling a presidential race. “Don’t run, Uncle Joe,” urged Jamelle Bouie in a recap of Biden’s background for Slate. So how did Biden go from “Drug War Joe” to “Dank Brandon”, progressive hero of the weed?
nineteen eighty one
Delaware Senator Joseph R. Biden began to exert his influence on drug policy and mass incarceration as a ranking member (and chairman, from 1987 to 1995) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Ministry of Justice. During this time, he helped create the role of a federal “drug czar,” as The New York Times reported in 1982, to coordinate the combined efforts of multiple government agencies, including the Departments of Justice and Justice. Defense, the FBI, the Coast Guard and the Internal Revenue Service. “We need someone to make the decisions,” Biden said.
Biden is working with far-right Republican Senator Strom Thurmond and the Reagan administration to pass the Global Control Act. The law expands federal penalties for drug trafficking and civil asset forfeiture, allowing police to seize a person’s property without proving them guilty of a crime. Two years later, Biden co-sponsors the Anti-Drug Act of 1986, which creates new mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, including the famous 100:1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine. A conviction for possession of powder cocaine with intent to distribute carries a five-year sentence for 500 grams, while the same conviction for crack cocaine carries a five-year sentence for just 5 grams, so the more severe penalties are meted out to low-level drug dealers. and poor drug addicts.
Biden is working with the Ronald Reagan administration to craft the next anti-drug law of 1988, which establishes the Office of National Drug Control Policy, headed by the director of the “drug czar” Biden engineered in 1982.
Biden appears on national television to criticize President George HW Bush’s plan to escalate the war on drugs; his criticism is that the plan is not tough enough on offenders. “Quite frankly, the president’s plan isn’t tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to deal with the current crisis,” Biden said. “[Democrats] don’t oppose the president’s plan – all we want is to bolster it. He goes on to say that “the president’s plan doesn’t have enough police to catch violent thugs, enough prosecutors to convict them, enough judges to convict them, or enough jail cells to lock them up for a long time.”
The controversial legislation known as the Crime Bill of 1994 is Biden’s most significant contribution to expanding policing in the war on drugs. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, drafted by Biden, increases funds for police and prisons, fueling an expansion in the federal prison population. It also applies the federal death penalty to 60 crimes, including large-scale drug trafficking and drive-by shootings resulting in death. Biden boasts after the law was passed that the “liberal wing of the Democratic Party” is now for “60 new death sentences”, “70 tougher sentences”, “100,000 cops” and “125,000 new prison cells” of state”.
Biden is the lead sponsor of the RAVE Act, signed into law as a companion to broader legislation in 2003, making it easier for prosecutors to amend and jail rave owners and promoters for failing to prevent drug offenses on their premises. “The RAVE Act chills free speech,” says the ACLU, “and hurts the very people it’s meant to help.”
Before Biden left the Senate to become vice president, he worked to reduce prison sentences for crack cocaine, which helped lead to the Fair Sentencing Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. And he has since acknowledged his mistakes. “I haven’t always been right” on criminal justice, Biden told CNN in 2019. “I know we haven’t always got it right, but I’ve always tried.”
And though he says he supports overturning marijuana convictions during his campaign, Biden is uncertain about the potential impact of cannabis legalization. “The truth is there is not enough evidence that has been acquired to know whether or not this is a gateway drug,” Biden said during a Las Vegas town hall in November 2019.
Yesterday, Biden tweeted: “We rank marijuana the same as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It does not mean anything. I ask @SecBecerra and the Attorney General to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is registered under federal law. In a call with reporters before the announcement, a White House official said that even if Biden asks for a review process, it “will take some time because it has to be based on careful consideration of all the evidence. available, including scientific and medical information available.
While Democrats hope Biden’s historic move toward cannabis reform will bolster the party’s candidates as they approach midterm, progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are already to push to go beyond pardons and erase records completely. Stephanie Shepard says the next step should be for Biden to grant pardons to those convicted of other nonviolent cannabis offenses, including conspiracy to distribute. “He has the power with the stroke of a pen to bring home thousands of prisoners of this war.”
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