Joe Biden said this week that he wasn't "prepared to push for legalization" of recreational marijuana if he was elected president

By Sean Neumann
November 19, 2019 12:19 PM

Joe Biden raised eyebrows over the weekend when he said he won’t look to legalize marijuana nationwide if elected president because it may be a “gateway drug” that first requires more research.

The Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president claimed during a Las Vegas town hall there hasn’t been enough evidence to show whether or not marijuana is a “gateway drug” — a term used to describe habit drugs that lead users to harder illegal substances, like heroin or cocaine. Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows, however, that most marijuana users don’t go on to use harder substances.

“It’s a debate,” Biden, 76, said in video from Saturday. “Before I legalize it nationally, I want to know a lot more about the science behind it.”

However, Biden said he supported decriminalization of recreational marijuana use.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaking in Las Vegas.
| Credit: David Becker/Getty

Two-thirds of Americans say marijuana should be legalized, according to a recent Pew Research poll. Eleven states have legalized recreational marijuana use, with Illinois being the most recent and going into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Biden also said he believes states should have the right to decide on legalization for themselves and that he supports medical marijuana legislation. The former vice president said that those being held for marijuana arrests should be released from prison and their records should be “immediately expunged.”

Biden’s son Hunter recently opened up this summer about his own struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.

“Everybody has trauma. There’s addiction in every family. I was in that darkness,” the 49-year-old told The New Yorker. “I was in that tunnel — it’s a never-ending tunnel. You don’t get rid of it. You figure out how to deal with it.”

Other Democratic candidates were quick to jump in and offer opposing views over the weekend after Biden’s remarks drew the ire of marijuana proponents.

Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted that “we must legalize marijuana now—and expunge all past marijuana convictions as a matter of racial and economic justice.” Andrew Yang, another Democratic candidate, posted a picture of himself in front of marijuana plants with a reference to Breaking Bad, tweeting, “Say My Name.”

Biden has had trouble drawing support from younger voters as the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has developed. This likely won’t help, as support for legalization is strongest among 18 to 34 year olds, according to the Associated Press, and 76 percent of Democrats are in favor of legalization. Though Biden made it clear Saturday he doesn’t fully agree.

“Nationally, I’m not prepared to push for legalization,” Biden said. “I need more data to make that judgement.”