What Does a Biden Win Mean for Global Cannabis Rules?

 Global Cannabis Rules

Cannabis-friendly Biden wins US election, and 5 more states legalize recreational cannabis

After voters in the United States elected Joe Biden for president, a renewed zeal for marijuana reform spread across the country.

Major US cannabis companies recorded gains as news of the election results came in. They also didn’t hide their reasons why. David Klein, CEO of Canopy, a cannabis company, stated that, "We believe the Biden win is an important step on the path to federal permissibility of cannabis in the U.S. market through decriminalization and descheduling".

President-elect Biden wasn’t the only good news for marijuana advocates this November. Several states in the US also legalised cannabis for either recreational or medical use (or both), adding to 11 states where the drug was already legal for recreational purposes and the 34 states where it was already legal for medicinal purposes:

  • New Jersey - Recreational use
  • Arizona - Recreational use
  • Montana - Recreational use
  • South Dakota - Recreational and medical use

None of this should come as a surprise, as half of the US population are in favor of recreational cannabis legalization, and almost two-thirds of the country want medical cannabis legalization.

Half of the US population support legalizing recreational cannabis.

 

Half of the US population support legalizing recreational cannabis. src

In this article, we’ll take a look at how President-elect Biden’s win could shape the future of cannabis, not only for the US, but on the global stage.

 

Biden’s political history frowns on drug use, but his current campaign promises the opposite

President-elect Biden’s current campaign for president sold the idea of decriminalizing cannabis on the national level. His official campaign website actually touted the policy, urging supporters to spread the word on social media via ready-made templates like “I’m voting to decriminalize marijuana use.”

However, this new Joe Biden didn’t always exist. In fact, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the President-elect had a clear tough-on-crime agenda, pushing drug law after drug law.

Here’s a brief look at Biden’s record:

  • Introduced the Comprehensive Narcotics Control Act of 1986 to develop drug enforcement policies.
  • That bill increased authority for seizure of assets collected in drug cases, increase drug penalties, impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and add new substances to the CSA (Controlled Substances Act), among other drug-enforcement provisions.
  • In 1989, Biden also introduced another bill in 1989 which proposed a program to the United Nations whereby debts of member states could be partially forgiven if they use resources to reduce international drug trafficking.
  • Biden introduced the Federal Crime Control Act of 1989, proposing that drug offenders should be held for sentencing or appeal rather than released on bail.
  • Biden also amended a bill in 1990, the Drug Kingpin Death Penalty Act, to impose capital punishment for murder while committing a federal drug offenses, as well as a mandatory life sentence for the leader of a criminal organization.
  • The National Drug Control Strategy Act of 1990, another Biden handiwork, proposed military-style boot camp prisons to be used as alternative sentencing options for people convicted of drug-related offenses.
  • Biden also voted in favor of Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and separate 1999 omnibus bill ordering the drug czar to oppose efforts to legalize the use of a substance in Schedule I.

But with Biden’s sudden about-face on drug policy, one has to wonder whether it is actually sincere.

  

The rest of the world could follow the US on cannabis policy

The United States has a tendency to lead the world on drug policy. So far, they have had some of the harshest sentencing schemes for drug offenders, as well as a zeal for making drug-related arrests. 

An example is Biden’s 1989 bill that sought to provide debt relief to countries that used their resources to fight drug trafficking. Because of the influence the US has, it has become a model for which way drug policies should lean. 

When several states began legalizing cannabis for recreational use in the United States, we began to see several other countries open up to the idea. Australia, although no legalizing the drug for recreational use, actually legalized it for medical use in 2016. 

Also, following the current trend of states in the US setting their own legalization and decriminalization policy independent of the federal government, the ACT actually legalized cannabis for recreational use last year, despite the drug remaining illegal on the federal level in Australia. 

Also, in line with the United States shift to the majority of the country supporting recreational cannabis legalization, Australia recently saw the majority of the country support recreational cannabis as well. 

National Drug Strategy Household survey indicates that more Australians now support cannabis legalisation (41%) than those who do not (37%).

National Drug Strategy Household survey indicates that more Australians now support cannabis legalisation (41%) than those who do not (37%). src

Other countries that have legalized cannabis or decriminalize its possession include:

  • Uruguay legalized recreational cannabis
  • Canada legalized recreational cannabis
  • South African court ruling rendered cannabis law unconstitutional
  • Mexico had a similar court ruling
  • Several countries in the EU have decriminalized cannabis possession, and/or legalized cannabis for medical use.

With Joe Biden making it clear as a campaign promise that he will push to decriminalize cannabis on the federal level, we can expect to see the rest of the world become more willing to take similar actions.

  

Final thoughts - Decriminalization is not legalization

Joe Biden’s new stance might seem exciting to cannabis advocates, but it isn’t as good as it sounds. The US President-elect simply wants to decriminalize cannabis, not legalize it.

Biden’s decriminalization policy indicates that those caught with cannabis won’t be taken to jail, but rather they will be forced into drug treatment centers or “drug court”.

Legalization, on the other hand, means there would be no sanctions at all for cannabis use, so you can use it freely without any consequence.

In the many US states where cannabis continues to be legalized, decriminalization would be a backward step. It will be interesting to see if the federal government will enforce a decriminalization policy in such states where the drug is fully legal.