It appears that President-elect Joe Biden may already be falling short on some of his campaign promises. When the Biden campaign released their transition plan, advocates immediately noticed that reform of cannabis laws was not stated in the plan, despite many promises on the campaign trail. While drug law reform and cannabis legalization are not specifically mentioned in the plan, it is possible that these issues could fall under the umbrella of criminal justice reform.
The new page says Biden is working to “strengthen America’s commitment to justice, and reform our criminal justice system” and includes specific measures, such as a ban on police chokeholds and creating a national oversight commission to track law enforcement abuses, but cannabis legalization or decriminalization is mysteriously absent.
His campaign site, which is still up and running, includes a section titled, “Plan for Black America” where he promises to “decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions.”
The fact that this language was in the pre-election press release but missing from the most recent ones has many activists very concerned.
A Biden campaign spokesman told Marijuana Moment that “Nothing has changed,” and said that Biden has many important policy plans that are not officially listed on the website yet. Activists have good reason to be concerned that Biden won’t follow through on his promise, considering that he was one of the architects of the drug war and has been against cannabis legalization throughout most of his career.
Despite the changing attitudes towards cannabis legalization, people arrested for cannabis still make up a significant portion of cases that come through the country’s criminal court system.
According to the FBI’s recent Uniform Crime Report, more people were arrested for cannabis possession last year than for all violent crimes put together.
The data showed that 545,602 people were arrested in the US for cannabis-related crimes last year. Meanwhile, just 495,871 people were arrested for violent crimes.
Furthermore, the vast majority of the people who got arrested for cannabis were not accused of selling or trafficking the substance, but just for simple possession. 500,395 of the total cannabis arrests last year, or about 92%, were for possession, which is still more than the number of people who were arrested for violent crimes.
Overall, cannabis arrests have been going down nationwide due to the spread of legalization. Last year, cannabis arrests were down by 18% when compared with 2018.
As suspected, the FBI’s data showed that people were less likely to get arrested for cannabis in states where it was legal or available for medical use, with eastern states seeing far more arrests.
According to the report, roughly 53% of all cannabis arrests last year took place in the northeastern part of the country, where cannabis laws are still catching up with the west.
People of color are also at a greater risk of being targeted for cannabis arrests. According to a report from the ACLU, 2018 data showed that people of color were 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people, despite using the substance at the same rates.
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