May 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

What young voters think of Biden's big weed move

Illustration of aviator sunglasses with cannabis leaves reflected in the lenses.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Young voters' advocacy groups cheered President Biden's recent move to ease restrictions on marijuana, though some cautioned it's only an incremental step toward making weed legal.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has made concerted efforts — from joining TikTok to pursuing student debt relief — to appeal to young voters, a key bloc behind his 2020 victory that's looked less in the bag this time around.

  • "If there's two things young people love, it's weed and criminal justice reform," said Jack Lobel, a spokesperson for Voters of Tomorrow, calling the move "phenomenal."
  • The push is "another sign that the Biden administration takes young people and their concerns seriously," Lobel added.
  • Akua Amaning, director of the left-leaning Center for American Progress' criminal justice reform team, struck a more cautious note.
  • "It is still considered an illegal substance, that will continue the harms of drug enforcement that we have seen today, and will have no opportunity to right those wrongs," Amaning said.

By the numbers: Polling conducted by Lake Research Partners last October found that 58% of voters aged 18 to 25 supported rescheduling marijuana.

  • 74% of Democrats and 55% of independents supported rescheduling. While only 41% of Republicans said the same, support was higher among younger and women Republicans.

Catch up quick: The Biden administration's move to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance would recognize that it has less potential for abuse than other drugs.

  • The new rule, still to be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would also recognize medical uses of marijuana and allow the cannabis industry to access banking services.
  • Rescheduling cannabis also opens the door to conducting more research into its potential medical benefits, per NBC News.

Context: Dozens of states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana. Adults can buy marijuana for recreational purposes in 24 states and Washington D.C., and cannabis is legal for medical purposes in 38 states.

  • While running for president in 2019, Biden pledged to decriminalize marijuana and expunge all prior marijuana convictions.
  • Biden pardoned thousands with marijuana convictions, in 2023 and 2022.

The big picture: The annual Harvard Youth Poll released last month found 18- to 29-year-olds ranked inflation, healthcare, and housing as their most important issues. Israel/Palestine — which led to major protests on college campuses across the U.S. ranked 15 out of 16.

  • "When we go to the polls, we're going to be looking at the overall picture," Lobel said of young voters.
  • He added that marijuana policy, more broadly, could drive some support to Biden.

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