Biden’s historic shift toward marijuana is his latest election-year move for young voters

Phoenix, Arizona –

US President Joe Biden could eventually ban TikTok, but he is taking steps to give something back to the young people who dominate the popular social media app: looser federal control over marijuana.

Facing weakening support among a group of left-leaning voters that will be crucial to his re-election hopes in November, Biden has taken a series of election-year steps aimed at appealing to younger voters in particular. His decision to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug is only the latest, coming weeks after he canceled student loans for 206,000 other borrowers. He has also made abortion rights a central element of his re-election campaign.

The push to highlight issues that resonate with younger voters comes as Biden struggles to hold together the coalition that sent him to the White House in 2020.

Biden, the oldest president in U.S. history, is fighting the perception among voters that he has lost a step as he ages. Discontent with his handling of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has erupted into riots on university campuses. While inflation has slowed from its peak and the job market remains strong, polls show Americans still blame Biden for high prices and high interest rates, which are driving first-time buyers out of the housing market.

A proposal from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration would recognize the medical uses of cannabis and acknowledge that it has less potential for abuse than some of the country’s most dangerous drugs. However, it would not completely legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Biden called for a review of federal marijuana law in October 2022 and moved to pardon thousands of Americans convicted at the federal level for simple possession of the drug. She has also called on governors and local leaders to take similar steps to expunge marijuana possession convictions.

“The American people have made it clear in state after state that cannabis legalization is inevitable,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and an early proponent of relaxing marijuana laws, said in a statement. “The Biden-Harris administration is listening.”

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris touted their support for marijuana law reform to mark the April 20 cannabis holiday at exactly 4:20 p.m. on Saturday.

The comments are the latest sign that the administration plans to continue focusing on the popular issue ahead of the November elections.

“Sending people to prison just for possessing marijuana has disrupted too many lives and imprisoned people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden posted on social media platform X. “It’s time we righted these wrongs.”

Marijuana policies are favorable to the president.

According to AP VoteCast, 63 percent of voters nationally in the 2022 midterm elections said they favored legalizing recreational marijuana use nationwide, compared to 36 percent who He said they were opposed. Support for legalization was highest among adults under 45, 73 percent of whom were in favor. About eight in 10 Democrats, about two-thirds of independents and about half of Republicans were in favor.

Biden has granted pardons to thousands of people for federal marijuana possession and commuted long sentences handed down for nonviolent drug crimes. In 2022, he urged governors to forgive state offenses.

While young voters lean left, they are also less likely to vote. Biden cannot afford to have a reliable group of supporters stay home or vote for a third-party candidate like independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is aggressively courting young voters, or the Party’s Jill Stein. Green, who leans towards her. opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza.

The last two elections were decided by fewer than 100,000 votes in three states.

Despite growing public acceptance, Biden’s move has prominent detractors, including several former top DEA officials. Opponents say the potency of today’s marijuana could cause harmful side effects, such as psychosis and anxiety.

“This is a political act, it does not follow science,” said former DEA administrator Tim Shea. “It is politics in an election year. It’s like forgiving student loans. “It is aimed at a select group of people and the impact is going to be bad.”

“The authorities cannot believe what is happening,” Shea added.

During the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, then-Sen. Biden was a leading voice in the so-called “War on Drugs.”

Ethan Nadelmann, who has been advocating for drug legalization for decades, said Biden probably now feels that a more lenient stance on marijuana could help appeal to younger voters and progressive members of his party.

“It will end hypocrisy,” Nadelmann said.

Former US President Donald Trump’s views on marijuana are unclear. But as a Florida resident he will have the opportunity to vote on a legalization initiative on the November ballot. In an interview last year with Newsmax, the Republican presidential candidate said marijuana causes “significant harm,” even as he acknowledged that cannabis legalization is “pretty popular” among voters.

Federal drug policy has lagged behind much of the country: 38 states have already legalized medical marijuana, in addition to 24 that have approved its recreational use. That has helped fuel the rapid growth of the U.S. marijuana industry, with sales estimated at $25 billion a year.

Easing federal regulations could reduce the tax burden, which can be 70 percent or more, by allowing companies to take tax deductions and take out loans, according to industry groups. It could also make it easier for scientists to research marijuana.

Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Miami and Jim Mustian in New Orleans contributed.

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