Biden’s marijuana pardons are a seismic shift

The author argues that the recent decision by President Joe Biden (shown here at a recent speech in Maryland) to pardon thousands of individuals with federal convictions for marijuana possession should be replicated by states throughout the country.

Fulfilling a high-profile campaign pledge, President Joe Biden recently announced that his office will be issuing pardons to several thousand Americans with federal convictions for marijuana possession offenses.

“There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result,” the president said. “My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”

But almost all marijuana-related arrests are for violations of state and local laws, not federal law.

As a result, White House officials have estimated that the president’s directive will bring relief to an estimated 6,500 people — only a fraction of the nearly 29 million Americans who have been arrested for marijuana violations during the past several decades.

Nevertheless, Biden’s actions mark a seismic shift in the way those inside the Beltway talk and think about cannabis.

Historically relegated as a fringe political issue, Biden’s foray into the arena of marijuana reform legitimizes legalization as a subject worthy of consideration — and action — by those at the highest levels of government. Further, it is a recognition — by the president of the United States, no less — that America’s nearly 100-year experiment with cannabis criminalization has been an abject failure.

Indeed, the administration’s actions acknowledge that arresting and criminalizing those who possess and consume marijuana does more harm than good.

This acknowledgement thus begs the question: Why are states and cities continuing to prosecute hundreds of thousands of people every year for behavior that most Americans no longer believe ought to even be a crime?

It’s a valid question. And it is one that leaders in Congress now need to answer.

By making the first move, the president has amplified the pressure on Congress — and Democratic leadership in particular — to respond.

Recreational marijuana sales are now legal in several U.S. States – Illustration: Getty Images

According to polling data provided by Morning Consult, nearly half of registered voters — including majorities of younger voters and Democrats — believe that repealing federal marijuana prohibition ought to be a legislative priority for Congress. Nonetheless, for far too long, elected officials — and those in the Senate in particular — have provided little more than lip service.

Specifically, Senate Chuck Schumer pledged prior to the 2020 election, “If I become majority leader, I will put this on the floor and it’s likely to pass.” Yet in the nearly two years since then, no stand-alone marijuana legislation has made it through the Senate to the president’s desk.

But that could all now change.

By getting out in front of this issue, President Biden is now receiving well deserved attention and accolades. His actions are not only good policy — they are good politics. Polling finds that a solid majority of Americans support the expungement of criminal records for those convicted of marijuana-related possession crimes.

But ultimately the White House can’t repeal or amend federal marijuana laws unilaterally. Like it or not, Congress must eventually weigh in on the issue by passing legislation.

President Biden has demonstrated that the time to do so is now. And most Americans agree.

Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in Washington, D.C. This essay is republished from the Daily Montanan.

Congress knows how to slash child poverty. It just needs to do it.

The enhanced child tax credit could help bring hundreds of thousands out of poverty. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It needs to reinstate the enhanced version of the Child Tax Credit, which expired in January

If you could prevent millions of children from falling back into poverty, would you? Most of us, I imagine, would answer “yes” without hesitation.

But not Congress. For nearly a year, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have dithered as the policy directly responsible for a dramatic decline in poverty last year lapsed. It’s time for Congress to bring back the enhanced Child Tax Credit.

New poverty figures by the U.S. Census Bureau has left no doubt that we can end poverty if we choose to do it. In 2020, the rate of childhood poverty stood at 9.7%. By 2021, it had dropped to just 5.2% — a whopping 46% decline. It was the largest year-to-year decrease ever recorded. In the blink of an eye, 2.1 million children in our nation no longer lived below the poverty line.

The reason for the massive decline in childhood poverty is clear. It is the result of improvements to the Child Tax Credit included in the last federal pandemic relief package that Congress passed in March 2021.

Congress strengthened the Child Tax Credit in several ways. First, it upped the amount of cash families get from the credit. Lawmakers also reworked the credit so that the lowest-income families could receive the full benefit, just like middle-class families can. Finally, Congress made it so that the benefits of the Child Tax Credit arrived in monthly installments, rather in a lump sum after families filed their tax returns, thus helping them better cope with their monthly bills.

These improvements to the Child Tax Credit proved a powerful tonic for the financial ills plaguing families struggling to get by on low wages. Most of the money went to pay for essentials like food, utilities, and rent. The tax credit also helped families cover expenses related to their children’s education, such as school books and supplies, tuition and after-school programs. These uses were particularly evident in the case of Black, Latino, and other families of color.

The one hitch with the plan was that the improvements to the Child Tax Credit were temporary. The changes expired in January of this year. Read more

The weekend’s top editorials: ‘Right thing to do’ would be for Republicans to pass Medicaid expansion this year

Senate President Phil Berger

A common theme for the state’s editorial boards this weekend was the GOP’s stubborn failure to act on Medicaid expansion this year.

Back in June, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told his colleagues that expansion was “the right thing to do, and it’s not even close.”

But then Republican leaders wanted to wait until after the midterm election.

After the election, Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore signaled they would wait until the new year to tackle expansion.

“I don’t disagree that waiting until next year is the right thing to do,” Berger told reporters the day after the November 8th elections.

Capitol Broadcasting Company notes in its Monday opinion piece:

The costs have been staggering – as many as 14,700 lives — of those unable to get the care they needed — have been lost; 230,000 diabetics have not been able to get the life-sustaining medications they require; 107,500 mammograms missed.

And, particularly for politicians who brag of frugality and job growth, the state has missed out on $17.44 billion in federal funds. That is money North Carolina taxpayers already send to Washington that’s paying more than 90% of the Medicaid expansion costs in 39 other states and Washington, DC.

In North Carolina, Medicaid expansion is more about antipathy toward former President Barack Obama than it is a partisan matter. GOP strongholds like Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky have all expanded Medicaid. It is widely supported. In September, the Emerson College Poll found 57% of the state’s voters back Medicaid expansion and just 18% oppose it.

Medicaid expansion is a job-creating force – and North Carolina’s failure to act has cost the state nearly 120,000 jobs.

If Berger believes he can take credit for all the advances the state has made – he too must take responsibility for the devastation that has befallen families because they haven’t been able to get the critical – and often life-saving – health care they’ve needed.

The Raleigh News & Observer describes how the GOP’s continued inaction is harming hospitals, especially rural ones, that would benefit from the federal infusion of cash. Associate opinion editor Ned Barnett writes:

To encourage holdout states to expand, the Biden administration has offered to boost the federal share of all those states’ total Medicaid costs by 5 percent for three years. In North Carolina, that incentive would be worth $1.7 billion. The cost to the state of expanding would be $700 million. That means North Carolina could have an extra $1 billion to spend on other needs. Yet it remains among the dwindling number of holdout states.

But the longer the delay, the more the risk of losing momentum. An agreement on CON changes may not be reachable, or a majority of lawmakers may insist on linking Medicaid expansion to work requirements for the newly eligible, which the Biden administration won’t approve. Lives are at stake. The legislature should act on its first opportunity to expand Medicaid without the complications of CON concerns. Financially and morally, expanding Medicaid now, as Berger once said, “is the right thing to do.”

Read the N&O’s full editorial here.

North Carolina remains among only a handful of states that have yet to expand Medicaid.  Even in very conservative states like South Dakota, a majority of voters approved Medicaid expansion in November through a constitutional amendment.

Criminal justice under a Republican state Supreme Court, more lessons from the midterms, and same-sex marriage gains bipartisan support in U.S. Senate: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

11. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: The cavalry’s here and it’s bringing a whoopee cushion

If you think we’ve all gotten a little more hateful lately, you’ll find validation in the viral response to a happy lil’ tweet from Daisey Beaton, a newlywed who identifies as… nice. How dare she try to spread love and light through Elon Musk’s toxic Twitterverse?

You see recently Beaton tweeted how she enjoys sharing a cup of coffee with the husband she loves “so much” in their sun-splashed garden every morning. She shared giddily how they talk for hours and never run out of things to say.

And now she must die.

OK, not exactly but let’s just say things did not go well. Beaton, whose tweets are full of optimism and pictures of her crochet projects and container gardening, seems like the kind of sweet soul who will insist on giving birth one day in a Walmart kiddy pool in her living room. As she would say: “wykyk.” (When you know, you know. Duh.)

So why did her tweet about enjoying being with her new husband and having a pour-over every morning make so many so mad?

No sooner than Daisey posted her happy coffee moment than hundreds countered with the advice that she should “get a job!” There was so much backlash, an obviously wounded Daisey responded she does have a job and so does her husband. She’s a cosmetologist who specializes in vegan eyelashes and her husband is a professional skateboarder. The 80 percent snark in my personal pie chart wants desperately to make a joke about that but I won’t. Because he also teaches yoga. OK, this is really testing me and telling me it’s possible I’m part of the problem. Wykyk.

There was also a lot of talk about how they live “minimally and consciously” which sounded silly but also completely genuine.

My question is this: What makes us hate on this sweet lil’ couple who live an uncomplicated life and work non-traditional hours? Why are we so quick to pounce?

There were hundreds of mean tweets accusing the couple of being privileged, clueless of the crappy lives of others and humble-bragging to the point of nausea.

But here’s the redemptive moment: The tweets were so mean, the tide turned thanks to humor. Yes, jokes pierced the piling-on and, as humor should, made thousands think, “Oh.”

An avalanche of “how dare you’s” gave way to a tsunami of “so you think you have it bad’s” that was genuinely hilarious.

@rjjago tweeted: “Way to have coffee with your husband ON STOLEN LAND. My wife and I have a cup of tepid rain water…before proceeding to our respective coalmines for the day.”

@cucciflipflopz wrote: “Some guys have all the luck. I was born with glass bones and paper skin. Every morning I break my legs and every night I break my arms. At night I lie awake in agony until my heart attacks put me to sleep.”

I give props to the nice folks who mounted a counter offense with simple “Leave them alone; love is always beautiful” but the snark! Now that’s the way to combat the dark forces. Always.

Humor may be the best way to keep us from devolving into a nation of writhing snakes in a bucket. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, we’re headed that way. This time, the cavalry arrived and the best ammo against hatefulness was…jokes.

Sure, the polar ice caps are disappearing but so is our collective sense of humor. (First, they came for our whoopee cushions…)

We live in a time where humor can save us if we let it. I’m often asked if I think everything’s a joke. Of course not. But humor can defuse, delight and, best of all, cause us to look at something with new eyes. Like a professional skateboarder.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write to her at [email protected].