Former vice president Joe Biden questioned during a Las Vegas town hall this weekend whether marijuana might be a “gateway drug,” despite scant evidence to support that theory.
The 2020 presidential candidate expressed support for medical marijuana and decriminalization of marijuana possession, but said that states should be able to make their own judgments when it comes to legalizing recreational use of the federal Schedule I substance.
There has still “not nearly been enough evidence” to determine whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug, Biden added.
“It is not irrational to do more scientific investigation to determine — which we have not done significantly enough — whether or not there are any things that relate to whether it’s a gateway drug or not,” he said.
Two in three Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to a report last week by the Pew Research Center. The District of Columbia and 11 states, most recently Illinois, have legalized recreational marijuana use. The share of American adults who are against legalization is now 32%, down from 52% in 2010, Pew found.
Generations of students learned from anti-drug abuse programs like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) that marijuana was a “gateway drug” that could lead users to explore other more dangerous substances such as heroin and cocaine.
Research does not appear to support the “gateway” hypothesis. While some research has found that a large share of people who use marijuana proceed to use other illegal drugs, there’s little evidence to suggest this relationship is causal. “The majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances,” says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
An alternative hypothesis, NIDA says, posits that people who are more vulnerable to taking drugs are merely starting off with drugs like marijuana, alcohol and