Biden Undecided Over Marijuana Legalization, Cites ‘Gateway Drug’ Concerns

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
November 18, 2019 Updated: November 18, 2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden has said if he is elected president, he may not legalize marijuana on a federal level, citing his doubts on whether the substance is a “gateway drug.”

Speaking at a Las Vegas town hall on Nov. 16, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said if the United States were to legalize cannabis nationwide he would need to see more evidence linked to its status as a gateway drug, adding that the issue is still up for debate.

“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Biden said. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

Biden said although he wouldn’t immediately legalize cannabis nationally, he thinks “states should be able to make a judgment to legalize marijuana.”

“I think that’s OK,” he said.

More research would be needed to determine the drug’s fate on a federal level, to ensure its use doesn’t lead to the use of other, more harmful substances, Biden added.

“It is not irrational to do more scientific investigation to determine, which we have not done significantly enough, whether or not there are any things that relate to whether it’s a gateway drug or not,” Biden said.

Biden’s recent comments are consistent with his previous lines regarding the drug; he has long supported legislation opposing its legalization. He was answering a question from a voter whether his stance on marijuana has changed.

“No, it hasn’t changed,” Biden responded.

When Biden was vice president in 2010, he said: “I still believe it’s a gateway drug. I’ve spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize.”

However, Biden this year moved to reclassify marijuana under federal law, shifting it from Schedule I—the most restrictive category—to Schedule II, and supporting decriminalization of its possession.

Marijuana possession “should not be a crime,” he told the Las Vegas town hall.

“It should be, to the extent that it exists, and anyone ever been convicted of the use of marijuana and put in jail, they should be immediately released, their record should immediately be expunged,” Biden said.

“It should be a civil penalty to the extent that it exists in states that don’t choose to legalize… But no one should go to jail for it, period.”

He told the participants he would, however, be prepared to push for the legalization of medical marijuana.

“But the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in fact is one that I need more data to make that judgement,” he added.

Biden’s remarks come just days after a new poll found that support for legalizing marijuana in the United States has increased this year, with two thirds of Americans backing the move.

The research from Pew Research Fact Tank interviewed about 9,900 adults from Sept. 3 to Sept. 15, and found that 67 percent of respondents were in favor of its legalization, up 5 percent from its poll last year.

Marijuana Health Concerns

Clinical psychologist Jonathan Stea told The Epoch Times in February that in his 10 years of treating patients with a marijuana use disorder, he has seen “a substantial minority of people that are addicted to cannabis.”

Although cannabis addiction doesn’t have such severe symptoms as heroin, fentanyl, or cocaine, he said, it can nevertheless be very disruptive.

He also said pot addiction can be downplayed or overlooked in society.

“I think there is confusion out there among some people with what addiction actually means and what it looks like and especially what cannabis addiction looks like versus, say, heroin addiction.”

He said some of the addictive symptoms pot users can experience include cravings, a sense of loss of control, compulsive use, negative consequences, habitual behaviors, and functional impairment.

Stea said evidence of cannabis addiction can also be seen in withdrawal symptoms in those who quit, such as loss of appetite, disruption in sleeping patterns, irritability, depression, and anxiety. This dispels the myth that cannabis is only psychologically addictive, he said.

National organizations, such as the Institute of Medicine, however, have not yet found sufficient evidence to suggest that cannabis use leads to the use of more harmful substances.

A 1999 report said marijuana “typically precedes rather than follows initiation of other illicit drug use,” but it “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse; that is, care must be taken not to attribute cause to association.”

The House Judiciary Committee will this week vote on a bill to legalize marijuana on a federal level, according to sources, reported Forbes.

Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.