A Blanket Pardon For Non-Violent Cannabis Offenders Would Be An Easy, Huge, Do-Able Win For Joe Biden

Here’s a fact: Joe Biden could probably guarantee the Republicans DON’T take back the House or Senate in next year’s mid-terms in one executive order. The executive branch — Joe Biden — could, all by himself, remove cannabis from The Controlled Substances Act. He can “move to federally legalize cannabis without waiting for lawmakers to act.” Not only can President Biden do this, he’s already set this ship in motion by hiring and appointing people who all want this very thing to happen. In addition, Biden could issue an executive amnesty for every single non-violent cannabis offender in the entire country. This would free all those prisoners now doing time and expunge their and every other record of every single person EVER arrested for growing, buying, selling or just enjoying the myriad benefits of cannabis — a natural product that should NEVER have been prohibited in the first place.

As a move, it would transcend politics because two thirds of Americans — both Democrats and Republicans — want this to happen (but, of course, it could NEVER happen with a Republican in office since they still have to kneel before the evangelicals). Know who else would actually be super happy if Joe Biden did everything he could to de-criminalize cannabis ASAP? The banks. They’ll literally hurt themselves in the rush to cash in on cannabis the nano-second it exits Schedule One and they can begin to invest in it legally. The states also hear the “Ka-CHING!” of money landing in their coffers. “Just in 2020, taxes from adult recreational cannabis sales totaled $2.7 billion” and that’s just part of the EIGHT BILLION TAX COLLARS collected by the 18 states that have legalized cannabis in one way or another.

Know who doesn’t like the “legal cannabis” story? No one. Hey, by righting the cannabis story, Joe Biden also can make America come to terms a little more with its racist past — without it going nuts. Hopefully, America will have a good stone on. We’ll feel the calm. Our minds will open a little.

Best part? For two seconds, it might even get the news media to focus on the bigger picture.

Even as Joe Biden rescues America daily from the cataclysmic precipice Donald Trump drove us to, in the eyes of the news media (still perspective-free), Joe Biden is failing because “bad messaging”. They still pooh-pooh Team Biden’s failure to focus on what’s IN the BBB versus what it costs when it was ALWAYS the news media who blasted the number over anything else because that was an easier (though less accurate) story to tell — disagreement over a bunch of imaginary numbers. The Progressives have always advocated for a specific end result: the level-est playing field possible in America so that every American has a genuinely equal shot at achieving the American Dream. And, every time a Progressive policy actually makes it into practice (the Child Tax Credit or the UBI-like unemployment payments received by millions of Americans), it provides a data set of success. The Child Tax Credit literally cut poverty in half. The UBI kept our economy afloat when, otherwise, it would have slipped deeper into recession because of the pandemic.

Legalizing cannabis has always been a liberal — not a conservative — policy. Let’s be crystal clear: the ONLY reason cannabis was ever “illegalized” in this country was because of racism.

A little while back, I got hired by Weedmaps News (back when there was a Weedmaps News) to write a 13 part, 25,000 word series called “BLUNT TRUTHS” on the history of cannabis prohibition in America. I had pitched them this idea because I’ve always wanted to tell the true story of Harry Anslinger, America’s first “drug czar”, the inventor (for all intents and purposes) of “reefer madness” and the man who, almost single-handedly, created the mess we have today — not just in America but all over the world. Anslinger was a complex character, one we’ve too easily dismissed as an over-reaching cop. He was, but that’s not what made him tick. Anslinger was an out-and-out racist who favored European culture and hated Black culture. He also was a remarkably skilled bureaucrat. That’s the problem.

I recommend the whole series (I would, but then I’m biased) but here’s the thumbnail: At the time of his appointment as first Commissioner of America’s new Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, no drugs were in fact “illegal”. Aside from controlling the importation of opium, the FBN had little to do, little manpower and even less money. Anslinger was an excellent choice having spent a decade at that point mostly in Europe arranging agreements about opium between America and various other nations. “Marihuana” (as Anslinger called it) was of zero concern; at that point, to Anslinger’s knowledge, only Mexican laborers in America’s southwest even knew what it was. Mexicans fleeing the Mexican Revolution (1910) brought marijuana with them as they re-settled in America. In time, marijuana made it across the country to New Orleans where a group of Black musicians were creating a newfangled thing called “jazz”.

This is a key moment both in how cannabis use became popularized but also WHY Harry Anslinger put a target on marijuana and made prohibiting it his personal crusade. Cannabis use spread alongside jazz’s rising popularity. In part, that was because every now and then New Orleans would kick out all the musicians. They’d head north to Memphis, Nashville, Chicago — from Anslinger’s point of view, “spreading” jazz and marijuana to white people. That crossed a line.

In addition to being a very good bureaucrat, Anslinger fancied himself a very good pianist. He loved European classical music. Jazz affronted him like a two by four upside the head. He hated the musicians who created jazz (people like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver), hated the marijuana that seemed to inspire it, and hated that white Americans were taking both the music and the marijuana into their systems. Anslinger was damned clever. He’d take a racist trope — “Black marijuana use was leading to crazed sexual behavior directed at white women” — to a newspaper. They’d print it because Anslinger was the freakin’ Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — would HE lie? Then Anslinger would hold up the newspaper headline and say “See? Didn’t I tell you that Black men were raping white women because of marijuana?”

Anslinger collected what became known as his “Gore Files”. To flip through them is to fully grasp where “reefer madness” came from. It’s absurd.

Ironically, Anslinger wasn’t allowed to actually make cannabis illegal — not, at first. For starters, there’s no Constitutional basis to make any drug illegal. Hemp, cannabis’ cousin, was a vital agricultural product when the founders were founding America. Back in the 1930’s, as Anslinger tried to get lawmakers interested, the AMA came to cannabis’ rescue. All the data, so said the AMA, argued for marijuana’s remaining legal. What the hell does the AMA know, demanded Anslinger. In the end, Anslinger was forced to do an end run around the Constitution to have his way. As with Al Capone, the government made it about taxes and not paying them.

The clever cruelty buried in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 is the stamp itself. The Act decreed that a tax had to be paid every time marijuana either was bought or sold (ditto hemp). In order to prove the tax had been paid, both parties had to obtain a stamp. Except the stamp never existed — and never was going to. By design, everyone who bought or sold cannabis from that point forward was going to be a criminal — a TAX criminal.

Fun fact: The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 scored its first success within days! For real! Samuel Caldwell became cannabis’ first sacrificial lamb on October 3, two days after the law was enacted. His crime: selling three joints. Okay — he also had a couple of pounds of marijuana in his room, but it wasn’t illegal to possess, remember?

Team Biden ought to make a blanket pardon, full cannabis decriminalization and legalization as much of a reality as the tools available to him allow. Sure, sure, plenty of those who’ll benefit are and will remain Trump voters. Not to worry. When all those criminal records get expunged — and those good citizens return to the voting rolls — hundreds of thousands of people will be motivated or re-motivated to vote because voting got them or their loved ones out of jail. This will be one more law that Democrats made happen but that Republicans (who didn’t) ache to claim credit for. We can’t let them do that.

For one thing, ya just know, Republicans will Bogart the hell out of that joint and then hand it off all dripping with their germy spit. Geez, ya can’t even get high with these people without it being a hassle…