Los Angeles Times: Biden, at risk with young voters, is racing to shift marijuana policy

Vice President Kamala Harris looked up from prepared remarks in the White House’s ornate Roosevelt Room this month to make sure the reporters there could hear her clearly: “Nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed.”

Harris’ “marijuana reform roundtable” was a striking reminder of how the politics have shifted for a onetime prosecutor raised in the “Just Say No” era of zero-tolerance drug enforcement. As President Biden seeks badly needed support from young people, his administration is banking on cannabis policy as a potential draw. 

Biden made similar comments to Harris’ in this month’s State of the Union address — though the 81-year-old president used the term “marijuana” instead of “weed.” The administration is highlighting its decision to grant clemency for pot possession as it races to have cannabis reclassified under the Controlled Substances Act before Biden faces voters in November.

Kevin A. Sabet, a former marijuana policy advisor in the Obama administration who heads an anti-legalization group, noted that Biden’s Health and Human Services Department released its preliminary recommendation at 4:20 p.m., slang for weed smoking time, underscoring the political nature of a normally button-down regulatory process. He argued that the decision was poorly crafted and could run afoul of U.S. treaty obligations.

But Sabet also agrees with advocates that Biden could have gone further.

“I think what the president wants to do is reap some of the benefits of the guy who’s embracing all this stuff without actually becoming in favor of legalization,” said Sabet, who heads the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

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