The grades are coming in President Biden’s performance with regard to his campaign promises on decriminalizing cannabis — and they all say failure. In late January, YouGov and The Economist released the results of their survey of 1,500 Americans polled between January 15 and 18. They are, in a word, damning.
Asked whether Biden had made any progress on his decriminalization promise, only 23 percent — less than one-quarter of the Americans polled — acknowledged so: 7 percent said he made “a lot” of progress, and 16 percent said he had made “some”. The remaining respondents — 77 percent — said “only a little,” “none,” or “not sure.”
Asked whether Biden will make progress in 2022, a majority of Americans are not optimistic. Just 16 percent of respondents expected either “a lot” or “some” progress. 58 percent believe there will be little or no progress on decriminalization whatsoever. These numbers directly contrast with the most recent national poll on cannabis from Gallup, showing 68 percent of Americans now support full legalization. Another national survey shows 70 percent of Americans favoring expungement of criminal records.
No wonder Morgan Fox, political director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) said “This inaction on modest cannabis policy reforms over the past year is inexcusable and is a betrayal of the people that put the president in office. Continued inaction on this issue will have negative consequences for his party this year and in 2024.”
To be fair, Biden has made a baby step or two in the right direction. He kept his campaign pledge to let states proceed with cannabis legalization and regulation without federal intervention. The infrastructure bill Biden signed last year contains provisions to aid cannabis research. And his choices to lead key drug policy agencies have generally been well‑received, and even applauded, by advocates.
Yet when directly questioned by reporters and lawmakers about taking action on past promises, the Biden team has only excuses — most often that focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic is taking up all the president’s time. In past issues of Kanna Knowledge we’ve reported on the many letters sent to Biden by business leaders, celebrities, and members of Congress to take action on decriminalization, drug rescheduling and pardon issuance —things he has the authority to do — yet to date all of these missives have been unanswered.
So will President Biden ever make good on his campaign promises or not? Expectations are low, and many pro-reform lawmakers see him as remaining cautious in his second year in the Oval Office. There is no question that advocates will continue to put pressure on the president and remind him about his past statements, but as of this writing there is little confidence being expressed of any breakthroughs in the coming months.