Biden Administration Dodges Marijuana Decriminalization Question: Will Joe Legalize It?

By Jelena Martinovic

The unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20 once again stirred up discussion among top lawmakers and officials in the U.S. about the drug’s legal status.

While the support for the legalization of marijuana on the federal level comes mainly from the Democrats, President Joe Biden has not yet given an “update” on progress in fulfilling his decriminalization promise from the campaign trail.

legal marijuana
Photo by MasterKeySystem/Getty Images

Cannabis Banking Reform As Legislative Icebreaker

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the third-highest-ranking Senate Democrat, once again expressed her support for passing a bipartisan cannabis banking reform bill during a visit to a credit union on Wednesday, reported Marijuana Moment.

During a press event at a branch of the Salal Credit Union, Murray — the assistant Democratic Senate leader — said the broad legislative vehicle might be the “best opportunity” for marijuana banking reform to advance this session.

The senator added the America COMPETES Act “has a really good chance of passing and deals with a lot of really critical issues facing Americans today.”

Perlmutter Urges Senators To Action On The Reform

With congressional leaders appointing key lawmakers to discuss the final form of a large-scale bill dealing with innovation and manufacturing in recent days, there’s hope that it will be the vehicle to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.

The U.S. House of Representatives formally attached a marijuana banking reform amendment from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) to COMPETES Act in February.

On Tuesday, Perlmutter sent a letter to Senate leadership urging the chamber to take action on the reform.

He implored the sponsors of a wide-ranging marijuana legalization bill that’s being finalized by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), to act, given that passing his Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act could also serve as a legislative “icebreaker” for broader reform.

Republicans Want To Save Banks

On the other hand, it seems the senators from across the aisle are more prone to helping banks.

“They (Republicans) want to do the banks’ business,” Senate Banking Committee Chair Brown said. “They want to do their bidding, but that’s not exactly breaking news that Republicans want to help the banks.”

RELATED: Biden Probably Won’t Reject Senate-Approved Cannabis Legalization Bill Despite Unclear Stance

Montana Sen. Steve Daines noted that cannabis reform doesn’t stand a chance with the current Senate if it includes criminal justice components. The SAFE Banking Act remains politically viable, he said.

“We have bipartisan support, of course, for the SAFE Banking Act, and we’ve got enough Republican votes that we can get it passed,” Daines noted. “So, let’s take the step.”

Cannabis Entrepreneurs Divided On Issue

Some cannabis entrepreneurs are not that optimistic.

Leonard Tannenbaum, founder, chairman and CEO of AFC Gamma Inc., does not hold much hope the SAFE Banking Act will pass into law this year.

In an interview with Brady Cobb, founder of Sunburn Cannabis, at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference on Wednesday, Tannenbaum said the much-anticipated SAFE Banking Act does not show many signs of passing this year, even together with the America COMPETES Act.

On the other side, Curaleaf Holdings Executive Chairman Boris Jordan told Jim Kirsch of Alliance Global Partners in a keynote address that kicked off the two-day cannabis conference that the two bills are the first step in a four- or five-step process that hinges on Congressional support.

“The outlook has never been better,” he said. “If we can get any federal piece of legislation that recognizes the existence of the cannabis industry, in my opinion, that’s a home run.”

Biden Still Silent On Cannabis Decriminalization

Either way, Biden is still silent on the decriminalization issue after a full year in the Oval Office.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was again asked about the president’s pledge to stop criminalizing marijuana at a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Marijuana Moment writes.

Joe Biden
Photo by Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images

While the White House didn’t provide any update on the issue — even though Biden believes that people shouldn’t be incarcerated over marijuana — Psaki instead praised the Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision to expand the number of authorized manufacturers to grow cannabis for research purposes.

“The president continues to believe that no one should be in jail because of drug use,” Psaki said. “I don’t have an update here. We are continuing to work with Congress, but what I can say on marijuana is we’ve made some progress on our promises.”

RELATED: What The New SCOTUS Could Mean For Marijuana Legalization

The press secretary called the move “a key step in promoting research because it broadens the amount and quality of cannabis available for research purposes.”

She added that Biden is “continuing to review his clemency powers, which is something he also talked about on the campaign and certainly remains committed to taking action on.”

In the meantime, lawmakers continue to pressure Biden on cannabis legalization.

Will President Succumb To Pressure?

In December, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) urged the president via Twitter to take unilateral action on cannabis policy.

“Biden needs to lean on his executive authority now. He has been delaying and underutilizing it so far,” AOC tweeted. “There is an enormous amount he can do on climate, student debt, immigration, cannabis, health care and more. Time is running out — we need to move and use alternative paths.”

Now that The House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, H.R. 3617, on April 1, sending it to the Senate, the question arises – will Biden use his presidential veto to nix the cannabis legalization bill if it reaches his desk?

Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, recently said that Biden “would be hard-pressed to veto” legislation that supports cannabis use because he can’t allow losing the younger generation of voters, reported Newsweek.

“Legalization is favored by two-thirds of all Americans, an even higher percentage of Democrats, and the vast majority of younger people,” Quirk said. “The 18-39-year-old age group is exactly where Biden has lost the most support since his inauguration.”

President Biden Lied When Campaigning In Support Of Medical Marijuana
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Vetoing marijuana legalization would make Biden public-official enemy No. 1 to many of the young voters whose support he badly needs to win back,” he added.

Yet Marsha Cohen, a law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, partially agrees with Quirk, even though she said that the chances are slim that the bill will be approved in the Senate.

“Young people may also be those least likely to be responsive to pollsters right now because they might not care. This [bill] might ‘talk’ to them,” Cohen told Newsweek.

Biden is poised to unveil a new strategy for dealing with drug addiction and overdoses on Thursday, reported Reuters.

The proposed plan seeks to broaden access to medications for opioid overdoses, increase funding for law enforcement and expand sanctions against traffickers.

Americans Want To See Weed Legalized

Nevertheless, a recent poll showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans would like to see marijuana legalized.

In the new survey, conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens were interviewed online from April 1-5.

Fifty-seven percent would support expunging marijuana-related convictions, while 51% back allowing banks to provide services to marijuana businesses.

The newest data only confirmed the Gallup poll results released late last year, that showed that as many as 68% of U.S. residents support cannabis legalization.

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.



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