Nate Jackson / October 7, 2022

Pandering Pot Pardons

Joe Biden is more focused on gaining votes in November than on real reform for criminal justice.

As California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, Kamala Harris made a name for herself with hard-nosed prosecutions of druggies. For marijuana-related offenses alone, the woman who “did inhale” herself incarcerated nearly 2,000 people. What must she think now that her boss is going to pardon a bunch of similar offenders?

She’s being a good No. 2 and effectively throwing herself under the bus. “Today, @POTUS pardoned all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession,” she said. “This is a step forward in correcting the historical injustices of failed drug policies.”

Joe Biden announced yesterday that he will pardon roughly 6,500 federal convicts of simple marijuana possession, and he wants governors to follow suit. He also wants federal regulators to review the drug’s classification. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said. “That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we start to right these wrongs.”

Ah, there’s the “equity” and “systemic racism” angle Team Biden-Harris always works in.

Is there something to his allegation? “On average,” reports The Wall Street Journal, “a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it looked at arrests from 2010 to 2018.” The ACLU is a straight-shooting organization, right?

Meanwhile, Harris was routinely criticized for supposedly disproportionate prosecution of minorities as California AG. Nevertheless, solely because she checked the “Black” and “Female” boxes, Biden chose her as his running mate, and she signed off on his criminal justice plan to “end all incarceration for drug use alone.”

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, if you don’t like her principles, she’s got others.

Biden is certainly correct about the disconnect between the feds and the states. While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational purposes. Two-thirds allow it for medicinal use. Even at that, the Journal says, “Most people are convicted of simple marijuana possession in state courts, rather than federal.” Perhaps that’s because it’s a federalism issue.

It’s the example that counts. In addition to influencing how the states handle this issue, Biden’s pardons go a long way toward pushing legalization nationally.

Is that a good thing?

Well, as our Michael Swartz wrote earlier this year, “pot is like, bad, man.” He relayed the findings of a long-term study on the negative health effects of marijuana use. Long story short, weed is several times more potent today than when the hippies popularized it in the ‘60s, and in addition to the obvious immediate impairment while smoking it, researchers say the long-term effects include “small to moderate deficits in several cognitive domains.” No wonder Biden is issuing pardons.

Do we really want to sign everyone up for Medicare for All and permanently impair more people with weed? We’re already subsidizing junk food that causes obesity and heart disease, so we suppose at least this is consistent.

But it’s the crime angle that may be more immediately worrisome. “In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders — many of whom pleaded down from more serious charges,” noted Senator Tom Cotton. He’s right. Many people are convicted of lesser crimes to get them off the streets. Skyrocketing crime isn’t exactly a Democrat strength.

Ultimately, these pardons are actually relatively minimal. The strategy here is to force debates ahead of the midterms on marijuana legalization. Either that or it’s an acknowledgement that you’d have to be high to vote Democrat.


Correction: Harris served as California AG until January 2017.

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