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Joe Biden walks back marijuana ‘gateway drug’ comment after week of criticism

Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden speaks to residents in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday.Justin Hayworth/Associated Press/FR170760 AP via AP

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

About one week after former Vice President Joe Biden said he opposed marijuana legalization in part because cannabis might be a gateway drug, the Democratic presidential candidate is now saying research doesn’t support that position.

In a call with reporters Monday, the Nevada Independent’s Megan Messerly asked Biden whether he was wrong about suggesting that cannabis was a gateway to harder drugs at a town hall event in Las Vegas last week.


Biden denied that he made the claim in the first place.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I said some say pot was a gateway drug.”

After noting that he supports decriminalization, expunging prior records, releasing those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, and rescheduling the plant, the former vice president formally walked back his position on whether existing scientific research demonstrates that cannabis leads to the use of other substances.

“I don’t think it is a gateway drug,” he said. “There’s no evidence I’ve seen to suggest that.”

“That has been my position and continues to be my position,” he said.

“With regard to the total legalization of it, there are some in the medical community who say it needs to be made a Schedule II drug so there can be research studies, as not whether it is a gateway drug but whether or not it, when used in other combinations, may have a negative impact on people overcoming other problems, including in fact on young people in terms of brain development — a whole range of things that are beyond my expertise. There are serious medical folks who say we should study it more. Not that we should make it illegal, that we should be in a position where we criminalize it but where we should look at it.”


These latest comments are a lot different from what the former vice president said just last week. At the town hall, Biden said “there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug.”

“It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally,” he said. “I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

Evidently, Biden took a crash course on cannabis in recent days.

Shortly after he made the gateway drug remarks, numerous high-profile lawmakers took him to task for peddling what’s widely considered a debunked theory.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, described the former vice president’s remarks as a “Reagan-era talking point.”

Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, who are also presidential candidates, seemed to criticize Biden shortly after reports of the comments surfaced, implicitly contrasting their comprehensive legalization proposals with the former vice president’s stance.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, accurately predicted that Biden’s position would shift, though perhaps sooner than he anticipated.

The criticism over Biden’s comments culminated during last week’s presidential debate, where Senator Cory Booker proactively called out the former official for opposing cannabis legalization when it’s “already legal for privileged people, and the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people.”


But while the former vice president’s present opposition to legalization put him at odds with other candidates on the stage and the majority of the American public, it’s not the only drug policy critique he’s faced. Civil rights groups have similarly highlighted that Biden played a key role in advancing punitive anti-drug laws during his time in the Senate.

Read the full story on Marijuana Moment.