LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Joe Biden said he differs from his Democratic 2020 rivals by not backing the legalization of marijuana, saying the scientific community doesn’t know enough about whether it serves as a “gateway drug” to more dangerous substances.
“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the former vice president said in Las Vegas on Saturday at a campaign event. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more [information] before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
Biden, 76, said that although he opposes legalization, he does favor federally reclassifying the drug to help offenders avoid jail time.
“It should not be a crime,” he said. “Anyone who has ever been convicted of using marijuana and put in jail, they should immediately be released. Their record should immediately be expunged.”
Although Biden said marijuana possession should not be a crime, he said he supported “a civil penalty to the extent that it exists in states that don’t choose to legalize. And nationally I’m not prepared to push for legalization. Medical marijuana, yes, but the legalization of marijuana for recreational use — in fact, that’s one that I need more data to make that judgment.”
Among the top crop of Democratic presidential candidates, only Biden has declined to endorse a federal legalization plan.
Last month, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg admitted to using the drug several times in the past and called criminalization of the drug a failure.
Both Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont have outlined plans of their own to legalize the drug, with Sanders making the issue one