Will Joe Biden Free Weed Inmates?

Stephen Andrews
19 Jul 2022

President Joe Biden finally “breaks the ice” and makes the first considerable comment on the subject of anything cannabis more than a year after his inauguration. In his most recent statement the president says his administration is “working on” to fulfill a campaign pledge to free weed inmates.

President Biden has been the target of constant criticism over his silence on cannabis and inaction on broader reform. Now, Biden, age 79, and a belonger of the one American generation with the most conservative views on cannabis ever, said: “I don’t think anyone should be in prison for the use of marijuana.” His statement came as a response to a journalist question upon his return to Washington over the weekend following a trip to the Middle East. 

The President added: “We’re working on the Crime Bill now.” Although, he did not make any additional comments about what bill exactly he was referring to. 

The fairly short response delivered by Biden is presently the most extensive and outspoken form of a comment on a cannabis topic the president has made a year and a half into his time in office. 

Is this the first instance Biden expresses this very view on marijuana incarcerations? No. It is something that the 46th U.S. president has communicated at multiple instances in the past. One of the last times he did that was in the spring of 2020, when, while giving an interview for “The Breakfast Club,” the current president said that it “makes no sense for people to go to jail [over cannabis].”

However, in the same interview Biden also asserted “science matters” as he elaborated why he does not support fully-fledged legalization. He was referring to ongoing research on whether there is any impact on the use of marijuana, its role as a potential gateway drug, and its potential long-term impact on the brain. 

Nevertheless, what matters now, in the year 2022, the second year of Biden’s term, is that he has taken no significant steps to cannabis reform. A single limited measure that may be interpreted as a signal, as willingness that the president could do more in the future is that, earlier this spring, he did grant clemency to 78 people among whom convicts of marijuana-related charges. 

This still falls short of mass pardon. Which is something that lawmakers and advocates have constantly pushed the Biden’s administration to do. That is, besides repeated calls for a general reform on cannabis nationwide. 

Can the president do more to help the cannabis movement? Certainly, he does. In fact, this is something that may gain him bipartisan support in times when his approval ratings are reaching historic lows and as frustration is mounting for his administration’s inaction on cannabis. Biden has angered everyone because of his refusal to end federal prohibition. Where he can start to do something more meaningful is exactly making a momentous decision on mass pardon. Not just empty blabber. 

Stephen Andrews