Democrats Renew Push for Biden to Decriminalize Weed, an Idea Arizonans Overwhelmingly Support.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

By Keya Vakil

September 2, 2022

Decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana is overwhelmingly popular with Arizonans of all political affiliations, as 70% of voters in the state support legalizing cannabis, according to the polling firm Civiqs.

Most Arizonans want legal weed and so do seven in 10 Americans. It’s about as popular an idea as exists in modern politics, with majorities of virtually every demographic supporting legalization. 

Now, one Senate candidate is making a renewed push for President Joe Biden to decriminalize marijuana, which would mark a major first step towards legalization. 

Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, the state’s Democratic nominee for Senate, called on Biden this week to use his executive power to decriminalize marijuana.

“It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana,” Fetterman said in a statement. “The President needs to use his executive authority to begin descheduling marijuana.”

Fetterman’s comments come as several other Democrats have also pushed Biden to decriminalize marijuana in recent months.

Safer Than Alcohol, Criminalized Like Heroin

Under a 1970 law, marijuana—which is exponentially safer than alcohol and has led to zero documented overdoses—is illegal on the national level and is categorized as a “Schedule I drug,” in the same grouping as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Under the federal government’s drug policy, cannabis is considered more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine, which were linked to the deaths of more than 57,000 Americans last year alone.

The federal government’s criminalization of cannabis as part of the failed “War on Drugs” has disproportionately devastated Black people, who are incarcerated for drug crimes at a rate 10 times greater than white people, even though they use drugs at roughly the same rates. 

Rather than combat drug overdoses and save lives, the government’s war on drugs has instead devastated millions of American families while leading to a 500% increase in America’s prison population since 1970. There are now more than 2 million Americans in jail and prison–the highest rate of incarceration in the world–and overdose rates have actually grown exponentially since 1970.

Legal at the State Level

Marijuana is fully legal in Arizona, 18 other states, and Washington DC, and legal for medicinal use in 18 additional states. But cannabis technically remains illegal at the national level, which has created headaches for states and cannabis dispensaries and has allowed federal prosecution of cannabis offenders to continue.

Decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana is overwhelmingly popular with Arizonans of all political affiliations, as 70% of voters in the state support legalizing cannabis, according to the polling firm Civiqs.

Does Arizona’s Congressional Delegation Support Legalization?

The push to legalize marijuana at the federal level has reached both chambers of Congress. In the House of Representatives, Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement passed with the support of Arizona’s five Democratic members of the House. Arizona’s Republican Reps., Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko, and David Schweikert, all voted against the bill.

In the US Senate, a comprehensive bill that would legalize marijuana, and protect the rights of workers in the cannabis industry—including access to banks for dispensaries—set a federal standard for impaired driving, and expunge penalties and criminal records for marijuana-related offenses.

While this proposal has not yet gone to a vote, both of Arizona’s US Senators are expected to vote in favor. When asked about marijuana reform in 2020, Sen. Mark Kelly, confirmed with 12 News that he would support removing marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has indicated that she supports decriminalization, and during her time in the House, co-sponsored legislation that would allow dispensaries access to banking systems.

Fulfilling a Promise

Biden, who had campaigned on a promise to decriminalize marijuana, has not yet taken significant action on the issue. In comments made last month, Biden said he plans to follow through on a pledge to release people who were imprisoned over non-violent federal marijuana offenses. He also added that he does not believe Americans should be locked up for using cannabis and that he was working on a “crime bill,” though it’s unclear what legislation he was referring to.

House Democrats passed a bill earlier this year to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and expunge cannabis-related criminal records. Only three House Republicans voted for the bill, which has not yet received a vote in the Senate, where it is likely to be blocked by Senate Republicans.

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  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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