Joe Biden's Shift on Marijuana Came Days Before Fundraiser With Pro-Legalization Donor

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
May 21, 2019

Former vice president Joe Biden's policy reversal on marijuana, which he just a few years ago called a "gateway drug," came just a few days before a Tuesday night fundraiser with Florida mega-donor and marijuana legalization advocate John Morgan.

Morgan is a well-known political fundraiser in Florida who raised millions of dollars for Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016. He has also used his wealth to fund ballot initiatives in support of liberal policies such as legalizing medical marijuana.  Morgan spent over $9 million on the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Florida and recently expressed his desire to commit resources to a potential 2020 recreational legalization ballot measure. Morgan has now begun organizing and donating to efforts to get a recreational marijuana legalization initiative on the Florida ballot in 2020.

Morgan endorsed Biden shortly after he officially entered the Democratic primary, calling him a "compassionate capitalist" and "a man of character." But his support of marijuana legalization puts him at odds with Biden, who has a long record opposing measures supported by marijuana legalization advocates.

Pro-legalization group NORML recently said "there couldn't be a worse candidate to support at this moment than Joe Biden" if you care about marijuana legalization.

While Biden was vice president, the Obama administration opted not to reschedule marijuana as a schedule 2 drug, decriminalize the drug, or support efforts to expunge criminal records related to marijuana offenses.

"Our policy for our Administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy," Biden told TIME magazine in 2014.

In 2010, Biden called marijuana a "gateway drug" and said "legalization would be a mistake."

During his nearly three-decade career in the Senate, Biden also helped author legislation increasing mandatory minimums for marijuana possession and wrote the legislation which established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, also known as the "drug czar."

Last week, however, Biden changed his position, telling a group of voters in New Hampshire that "nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana." His campaign elaborated in a statement to CNN, saying Biden now "supports decriminalizing marijuana and automatically expunging prior criminal records for marijuana possession," but not legalization.

Biden's new stance still puts him at odds with some of the more liberal candidates running in the Democrat primary. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), for example, introduced legislation to legalize the drug at the federal level and expunge federal criminal records relating to marijuana. The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), Bernie Sanders (D., Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who are all also running for president.