Today President Biden pardoned a boatload of low-level federal pot crimes. Biden also urged his AG to reclassify cannabis, a critical step to end the War on Drugs. The roots of today’s progress go back to the AIDS crisis.
My life as a pot activist began in earnest on April 16, 1998 at a medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco. It’s a memorable date thanks to a reporter, on hand to chronicle the first medical cannabis raid in American history.
It was traumatizing watching all those medically-frail AIDS patients being manhandled into the streets. Those who resisted, and many did, were cuffed and hauled away.
There was no resistance from me that day. I was a timid, clueless kid, far from home and semi-closeted about my HIV status. So I complied with law enforcement instructions because I was scared of jail and (especially) of having my weed confiscated.
It sucks to reflect on the times you didn’t stick up for yourself but it turns out, I wasn’t a total coward.
In the melee, I somehow had the presence of mind to find the reporter.
John Lassiter, 25, said he rushed to the (dispensary) fearing that “it might be the last chance to say goodbye to everybody. This is a place for really ill people, people with terminal diseases, to escape their loneliness. They come here for a few hours to visit people.”
Lassiter, who said he is HIV-positive, started coming to the club in December, shortly after moving here from Washington. He said that daily use of marijuana keeps his appetite healthy and helps him keep his weight stable.
It was empowering that a reporter thought I had something interesting say.
That was perhaps my first lesson that sometimes changing hearts matters just as much as changing the laws.
LET’S GO BRANDON!
That lesson was on my mind as news broke that President Joe Biden pardoned a boatload of low-level federal-level cannabis crimes. Mr. Biden also urged all 50 US Governors to follow suite and wipe away low-level state- and municipal marijuana charges.
Perhaps most notably, Mr. Biden urged the Attorney General and Secretary of Health & Human Services to “to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under Federal law.
“Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic.”
Our Federal classification system has stymied scientific research into medical cannabis while sending a dangerously dishonest message from the Feds to our kids that pot is more dangerous that meth. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)
Whether President Biden’s repudiation of America’s failed War of Drugs affects the atmospherics of the Nov 8 midterms remains to be seen. But given the growing consensus that locking people up for weed is a bad idea, this is really good politics.
The AIDS Connection
Today’s progress has it’s roots in America’s AIDS crisis.
California voters made history in November of 1996 by passing Proposition 215, America’s first successful referendum to legalize medical cannabis. The winning tally, over a million votes, was assured by huge margins in Los Angeles and San Francisco, two cities deeply devastated by America’s AIDS crisis.
Wasting away, covered in lesions, neglected by the government and often abandoned by their families is a staggeringly undignified way to die and it happened all the time.
Cannabis made dying of AIDS less awful.
The first line of anti-HIV meds in 1994 felt miraculous but they came with grueling side-effects. Cannabis curbed most of those symptoms allowing many HIV+ people (including myself) to tolerate the first generation of HIV drugs.
Thank to our pro-cannabis president (Twitter dubbed him Dank Brandon) we just took a major step forward ending the war on Drugs. As America continues this long-overdue experiment with marijuana legalization, I feel an urgent need to remind the world that AIDS set the table for marijuana reform in America. The earliest activism to get us here was done by people with AIDS and their caretakers. The suffering caused by AIDS changed enough hearts and minds that within a generation, America was ready to embrace marijuana reform.
And that’s how this all started.
And I’m sure Joe Biden would be the first person to say so.
Jay Lassiter is the Court Jester of New Jersey politics. He smoked a lot of pot.