Biden’s Early Views on Substance Abuse
With a political career as long as Joe Biden’s, there are bound to be observable changes in his opinions on various hot topics. Biden’s views on drug policies are one instance of this evolution. Once an unyielding politician, Biden failed to see any redeemable qualities in drug users. Now, he is an advocate for rehabilitation and ending the ever-growing opioid crisis. Read on for a quick review of Joe’s Biden’s drug policies, and a look at where we’re heading under President Biden’s leadership.
As a senator, Biden was a proponent of harsh penalties for anyone using or selling drugs. In 1989, Biden told the National Press Club: “There are almost a million [cocaine] addicts running around out there. Already hooked. Already under. Already robbing you. Already breaking into your homes. And there is no answer for those folks but to put them in jail permanently.”
As is the case with many life challenges, our perspective changes when something troubling affects us or our loved ones. It is no secret that Biden’s son, Hunter, has a history of drug addiction, relapse, and continued attempts at rehabilitation.
In 2019, Hunter sent a text to his father apologizing for being a “f*cked up addict,” fearing that it had jeopardized his father’s political career. Joe Biden responded to his son by saying: “Good morning my beautiful son. I miss you and I love you. Dad.” Although the hacker of these texts is unidentified, Rudy Giuliani reported them to the New York Post. The sentiment expressed by Joe to his son, Hunter, shows forgiveness, compassion, and love. Biden has also responded to his son’s addiction the way any supportive and loving father would.
“My son, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”—Joe Biden
Under Biden’s Past Legislation
The War on Drugs has failed in many ways, leading to corruption, fraud, violence, and death. Drug policies of the past left no room for exploring the root of drug abuse and addiction. When lawmakers addressed the causes of addiction and abuse, they rarely considered mental health, family history, and socio-cultural influences. Rather, they chose to condemn drug users as irredeemable societal failures. As a senator, Joe Biden’s drug policies were much different than what we believe he will stand for today as President.
So as a country, where have we been, and where are we going?
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986
In 1986, the use and availability of crack cocaine were skyrocketing. These led to what the nation would refer to as the “crack epidemic.” Following two young professional athletes’ deaths by cocaine overdose, US Representative Thomas P. (“Tip”) O’Neill put the Democratic Party to work on a bill that would become the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
Joe Biden, then a 44-year-old senator from Delaware, crafted the bipartisan legislation. He wrote the law to authorize new funding for drug treatment programs, and more severe penalties for drug-related offenses. The support was overwhelming, and President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law. However, this legislation changed the system for handling drug offenses from federally supervised release, with rehabilitation as the primary goal, to one that is fully punitive.
In addition, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act called for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for drug offenses that involved: “5 grams of crack, 500 grams of cocaine, 1 kilogram of heroin, 40 grams of a substance with a detectable amount of fentanyl, 5 grams of methamphetamine, 100 kilograms or 100 plants of cannabis, and other drugs.”
2001 RAVE Act Ambitions
Besides the devastation caused by the crack epidemic, Biden had a strict view on ecstasy – or MDMA – use, especially anyone promoting or hosting raves. Rave culture was reaching its peak in 2001, and Senator Biden was on the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees in the Senate. Then the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hosted a hearing that year, covered by C-SPAN. In a recently circulating video clip, Biden was quoted at the hearing as follows: “I would be passing new ordinances relating to stiff criminal penalties for anyone who held a rave—the promoter, the guy who owned the building. I’d put the son-of-a-gun in jail.”
Thus was born the RAVE Act, which stood for Reducing American’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy. Senator Biden was adamant in his policy and harsh in his judgment, claiming anyone connected to the creation, promotion, consumption, or possession of ecstasy would face the harshest legal penalties.
The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act
Congress passed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act in 2003. Their intention was to amend the Controlled Substances Act, prohibiting “knowingly leasing, renting, or using, or intentionally profiting from, any place (as well as opening, maintaining, leasing, or renting any place, as provided under current law), whether permanently or temporarily, for the purpose of manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”
This act authorized the court to “apportion the penalty between multiple violators, but make each violator jointly and severally liable.” It also permitted the DEA to appoint a Demand Reduction Coordinator in every state. The purpose of this rule was to educate young and old alike on the dangers regarding club drugs.
Through decades of political evolution, President Biden has softened his view on drug policies and substance users. No doubt this is partly due to the struggles his son has faced, but perhaps also because he has seen the failure of his former drug policies. Accordingly, President Biden’s plans for America’s future include fighting the opioid crisis and continuing the decriminalization of cannabis.
The Biden Plan to End the Opioid Crisis
President Biden believes all people should have access to high-quality health care, including those seeking treatment for substance abuse and mental health services. This perspective reflects his involvement with and support for Obamacare, which assigned both of these types of services as essential benefits insurance providers must cover. President Biden is thus looking to expand upon these as the first step to ending the opioid crisis.
Additionally, he plans to hold Big Pharma accountable for its role in spurring this crisis, and in continuing to enable addicts and drug abusers. His plan will include removing any incentives from physicians and other prescribers. He also believes that we are an overprescribed nation. Therefore, he is committed to addressing patients’ needs regarding pain management in a safe and practical manner by expanding coverage to include alternative treatments.
Since many opioid users are illegally obtaining their drugs, President Biden aims to stop the flow of drugs, such as fentanyl and heroin, from entering the US from outside territories, specifically China and Mexico.
Moreover, Biden does not believe anyone should be incarcerated solely for drug use. He has publicly stated his intention to reform the criminal justice system to reflect this belief. Consequently, the legal system will divert these individuals from federal courts to drug courts. Biden also believes in incentivizing each state to implement the same practices,
Decriminalization Views on Cannabis
As part of his efforts to reform drug policy, President Biden takes a firm stance on the decriminalization of cannabis. He believes in mandatory rehabilitation, and suggests building housing for people to undergo rehabilitation until they are mentally, emotionally, and physically well enough to return to society. As far as his specific thoughts on cannabis, Biden says:
“We should decriminalize marijuana….Wipe out the record so you can actually … in honesty, [when asked] ‘Have you ever been arrested for anything?’ … you can say ‘no’ because we’re going to pass a law saying there is no background you have to reveal relative to the use of marijuana.”—Joe Biden
While it might seem easy to judge Joe Biden’s former drug policies, it’s important to remember the times as they were. As a rising politician, Biden was writing legislation in the wake of Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs. The first cases of AIDS were reported in the US in 1981, and people were overdosing on stimulants and opioids at increased rates. Rather than aiming for reform, the approach was to eradicate, by whatever means necessary. As we know, this has not worked, and will not work.
President Biden is leading the country in a very different political climate in 2021. His prevention and rehabilitation approach shows that he has shifted from a staunch view of anti-drug use at all costs to one of more leniency. This is a big step for our nation as we continue to educate on the safe use of all substances.
RS Contributing Author: Holly Crawford
Holly is a lover of the written word. She enjoys using language to tell stories about people, products, and ideas. With her roots deeply entrenched in the cannabis industry, she gravitates towards all things psychedelic with open-minded curiosity. If she isn’t musing in one of her journals, you can find her talking to her plants, studying business and spirituality, and performing all kinds of kitchen witchery. Holly lives in Oregon with her husband and their three dogs and two cats. You can follow her on Instagram @m_sungreen.