Drug War

Biden's Drug Policies Are Still Oppressive

The reformed drug warrior opposes marijuana legalization and supports "mandatory rehabilitation" for people who violate the government’s pharmacological decrees.


Joe Biden has come a long way since his days as a vociferous drug warrior. But judging from last week's election results, Americans have come further.

The president-elect now opposes the mandatory minimum sentences and death penalties he once championed, and he portrays himself as a reformer determined to ameliorate the mass incarceration he promoted for decades. But Biden's approach to drug policy remains intolerant and oppressive in several important ways.

Unlike most of his opponents for the Democratic nomination, Biden opposes repealing the federal ban on marijuana. Instead he favors decriminalizing low-level possession, a policy that was on the cutting edge in the 1970s and that won't have much of an impact at the federal level, since the Justice Department rarely prosecutes minor marijuana cases.

In every state where marijuana was on the ballot last week, voters approved legalization of either medical or recreational use. Most strikingly, deep red South Dakota became the first state to legalize both simultaneously.

Thirty-five states now recognize cannabis as a medicine, while 15, including a third of the U.S. population, also have legalized recreational use. The latest Gallup poll puts public support for legalization at a record 68 percent.

Biden says states should be free to legalize marijuana. Yet he favors maintaining an untenable conflict between state and federal law that casts a dark shadow over the burgeoning cannabis industry, making basic business functions such as banking and paying taxes needlessly difficult, costly, complicated, and fraught with legal peril.

Regarding the "opioid crisis," Biden promises to "stop overprescribing while improving access to effective and needed pain management." Ignoring the lessons of the last four years, he fails to recognize how ham-handed efforts to curtail prescriptions have hurt both bona fide pain patients, depriving them of the medication they need to make their lives bearable, and nonmedical users, driving them toward black-market alternatives that are much more deadly because their potency is highly variable and unpredictable.

Last week voters in Washington, D.C., overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that opposes the arrest and prosecution of adults who use "entheogenic plants and fungi," including psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, iboga root, and plants that contain dimethyltryptamine. Oregon voters, meanwhile, made their state the first jurisdiction in the country to legalize psilocybin use.

Those groundbreaking measures represent a long overdue reevaluation of the government's authority to police people's minds by dictating which chemicals they may ingest. It's not an issue that Biden—even in his new, reform-minded incarnation—seems to have given any thought.

Oregon voters also passed an initiative that decriminalizes low-level, noncommercial possession of all drugs, something no jurisdiction in the U.S. had ever done. The initiative makes personal possession of controlled substances, previously a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a citable violation punishable by a $100 fine.

Drug users can avoid the fine by undergoing a "health assessment" at an "addiction recovery center." But they are not required to do so, and assessments are supposed to "prioritize the self-identified needs of the client."

Biden, by contrast, claims to recognize that drug users should not be treated as criminals, but he still thinks they should threatened with criminal penalties. "I don't believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use," Biden said last month. "They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed."

While Biden considers that approach enlightened and humane, there is no moral justification for foisting "rehabilitation" on people who do not want it and may not even be addicted. That policy strips people of their liberty, dignity, and moral agency simply because they consume psychoactive substances that politicians do not like.

Biden, who in the late 1980s was saying "we have to hold every drug user accountable," now wants to lock drug users in "rehab centers" rather than prisons. If that looks like an improvement, it is only because Biden's prior record is so appalling.

© Copyright 2020 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. File this one under ‘fucking duh’. All these half-cocked Biden criticism articles are lame and so try-hard, as if this is news to anyone. Where was this before the election ? Ah, it’s ‘president-elect’ Biden now, safe to publish.

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    2. Where have you been? Reason has been criticizing Biden’s election campaign since 2019.

    3. +100

    4. I thought libertarians were going to be allowed to criticize our Dear Leader again now that there is a (D) next to his name, it looks like some of you will find a way to whine anyway

    5. Proper phrase is “cry more, bitch”

  2. While Biden considers that approach enlightened and humane

    That’s a generous take.

    1. A kinder and gentler re-education camp.

  3. “I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use,” Biden said last month.

    No more jail, that’s good.

    “They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed.”

    Mandatory place you must go and are not free to leave until permitted. That sounds a lot like jail.

    1. But it’s a happy place where you heal, not a sad place where you’re punished. When the cops social workers arrest rescue you, you’ll thank them for taking you to the happy place.

      1. Yeah, you can get your “therapy” from the likes of “Chris Bathum”, see http://www.malibutimes.com/news/article_62b16ee4-2246-11e8-b456-1f240b332af0.html ,
        Malibu ‘Rehab Mogul’ Guilty on 31 Criminal Counts
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    2. It’s not jail if the media doesn’t report on it as such. They can turn jails into “facilities,” genuine facilities into “cages for children,” drone strikes into “contingency operations to prevent manmade disasters” and so on, and so forth.

      The media will breathlessly run cover for Biden for the next however many years it takes.

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  9. So where is personal substance control delegated to the Union of States again? When’s the national ban on soda-pop consumption going to to be the new national commandment of the [WE] mob?

    In positive light; At least Biden isn’t Bloomberg yet.

  10. “Biden’s Policies Are Still Oppressive”
    Always glad to help Reason get the headline correct.

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  12. C’mon man, a socially liberal harm-reduction approach is good for libertarians!

  13. “I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for __________,” Biden said last month. “They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed.”

    Welcome to the new regime. Fill in the blank as you see fit.

  14. mandatory rehab = nicer version of jail.

    nope….. just end the drug war.

    1. What makes you think it will be nicer? This is just jail that the prisoners have to pay for out of pocket.

      1. sorry…. nicer word for prison.

    2. Do you genuinely believe that the Democrats are going to enact policies to contract, rather than expand, the scope and intrusiveness of government power?

      1. what in my comment leads you to think i believe that?

        1. “[J]ust end the drug war.”

          1. ????? how does “end the drug war” = “i live under the delusion that democrats will shrink the government?” seriously?

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  15. So will the courts make you pay for your “mandatory rehabilitation”? Maybe I should start buying stock in scam rehab companies…

    1. The insurance that they mandated will be used to pay.

  16. is this not the entree you ordered?

    1. Lots of talk of lists post election. I think a worthwhile list would be of Reason writers that voted for Biden. Whenever one of them writes a negative article about Biden, a comparison to Trump’s approach would be appropriate. Don’t remember if Sullum was one or not, haven’t gone back and made my list yet.

      1. j’accuse the whole roster. this place was all-in for Sleepy Joe.

  17. Notice how Reason waits until a week after the election to reveal some of Biden’s many disastrous unlibertarian policies and actions during the past four decades.

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  18. Old joke.

    “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?”

    “Just one but the lightbulb has to really want to change.”

    Joe does not seem to get it. Mandatory rehab does not work. Inpatient rehab was popular some years ago but has been proven ineffective.

    End the war on drugs. I am on board with that.

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