Joe Biden on Drugs

Former Vice President; previously Democratic Senator (DE)


Beat the opioid epidemic; I believe in recovery

Beat the opioid epidemic. There is so much we can do. Increase funding for prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery. Get rid of outdated rules that stop doctors from prescribing treatments. And stop the flow of illicit drugs by working with state and local law enforcement to go after traffickers. If you're suffering from addiction, know you are not alone. I believe in recovery, and I celebrate the 23 million Americans in recovery.
Source: 2022 State of the Union address , Mar 1, 2022

1980s drugs bill, passed by all 100 Senators, was a mistake

Q: Crime bills that you supported in the '80s and '90s contributed to the incarceration of tens of thousands of young Black men who had small amounts of drugs in their possession. Speak to those families, why should they vote for you?

BIDEN: One of the things is that in the '80s we passed 100 percent, all 100 senators voted for a bill on drugs and how to deal with drugs, it was a mistake. I've been trying to change since then particularly the portion on cocaine. That's why I've been arguing that in fact we should not send anyone to jail for a pure drug offense, they should be going into treatment across the board, that's what we should be spending money. And that's why I set up drug courts which were never funded by our Republican friends. They should not be going to jail for a drug or an alcohol problem; they should be going into treatment. I think the American people have now seen that it was a mistake to pass those laws relating to drugs, but they were not in the Crime Bill.

Source: Third 2020 Presidential Debate, moderated by Kristen Welker , Oct 22, 2020

Trump is for more in jail; I am for drug rehab, not jail

BIDEN: This is a guy who said, "The problem with the crime bill, there's not enough people in jail." This is a guy who in the Central Park Five, five innocent black kids, he continued to push for the death penalty [referring to a 1989 case in which Trump took out a full-page newspaper ad calling for punishment]. He commuted 20 people's sentences. We commuted over 1,000 sentences. The federal prison system was reduced by 38,000 people under our administration. I'm offering $20 billion to states to change their laws to eliminate minimum mandatories and set up drug courts. No one should be going to jail because they have a drug problem. They should be going to rehabilitation, not to jail.

TRUMP: He's been in government 47 years, he never did a thing, except in 1994, when he did such harm to the Black community, and he called them super predators. Criminal justice reform, Obama and Joe didn't do it. If you had to see the arms I had to twist to get that done.

Source: Third 2020 Presidential Debate, moderated by Kristen Welker , Oct 22, 2020

Mental illness causes drug abuse, not other way around

Provide for the ability to bring in social workers and school psychologists. We have one school psychologist in America now for every 1,507 kids. It should be one to 500, not just in schools that are poor, but in all schools, because we learned that, for example, drug abuse doesn't cause mental illness, mental illness causes drug abuse, the failure to get hold of people and deal with their anxieties.
Source: Second 2020 Presidential Debate/ABC Town Hall Philadelphia , Oct 15, 2020

Rehab but no jail time for drug use; decriminalize marijuana

I don't believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use. They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed. We should decriminalize marijuana, wipe out the record so you can actually say honesty, "You ever been arrested for murder for anything?" You can say no, because we're going to pass a law saying there is no background that you have to reveal relative to the use of marijuana.
Source: Second 2020 Presidential Debate/ABC Town Hall Philadelphia , Oct 15, 2020

No one should be going to jail because they're drug addicts

Q: What will a Biden administration do to truly bring about lasting change?

BIDEN: We're going to make sure that we change the entire system in the way in which we deal with criminal justice from punishment to rehabilitate. No one should be going to jail because they have a drug addiction. They should be going into mandatory drug treatment that's why I set up drug courts.

Source: ABC This Week 2020 National Convention Biden/Harris Q&A , Aug 23, 2020

Will fight for policy of decriminalizing marijuana

BIDEN: No one should be going to jail because they have a drug addiction. They should be going into mandatory drug treatment that's why I set up drug courts.

HARRIS: That's part of the policy and the platform, that a Biden-Harris administration is going to fight for. A Department of Justice, unlike what Bill Barr is under Donald Trump, that is actually investigating these cases and enforcing consent decrees. A policy that is going to be about decriminalizing marijuana. Having a policy that is about looking at having a centralized database in our country that tracks police officers that have been found to break the rules or break the law.

Source: ABC This Week 2020 National Convention Biden/Harris Q&A , Aug 23, 2020

Drugs don't cause mental health issues; it's the reverse

Social workers and school psychologists can pick up the early signs of distress among students. Generation Z, as you know, is the most--has the greatest anxiety of any generation in the country, for the first time in American history. We're in a situation where we have now learned that, for example, drug abuse doesn't cause mental health problems. Mental health problems cause drug abuse.
Source: CNN S.C. Town Hall amid 2020 primaries , Mar 27, 2020

Not nearly enough evidence on marijuana as gateway drug

Biden said, "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. It's a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it."

Biden said he thinks "states should be able to make a judgment to legalize marijuana." He added that he also supports medical marijuana and possession of the substance "should not be a crime."

Source: BusinessInsider.com on 2019 Democratic primary , Nov 17, 2019

Addicts should go to rehab & expunge records, not prison

Q: You have a plan to release many nonviolent drug offenders from prison. Sen. Booker says that your plan is not ambitious enough. Your response?

BIDEN: We're in a situation now where there are so many people who are in jail and shouldn't be in jail. The whole means by which this should change is the whole model has to change. We should be talking about rehabilitation. Nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime. [Under Obama] we released 36,000 people from the federal prison system. Nobody should be in jail for a drug problem. They should be going directly to a rehabilitation. We build more rehabilitation centers, not prisons. I'm the guy that put in the drug courts to divert people from the criminal justice system. And so we have to change the whole way we look at this. [People] who got in prison for marijuana--they shouldn't be in there; that should be a misdemeanor. They should be out and their record should be expunged. Every single right should be returned.

Source: September Democratic Primary debate in Houston , Sep 12, 2019

People arrested for drugs should go to rehab, not prison

Q: Mr. Vice President, Senator Booker called your new criminal justice reform plan, "an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country." Why is Senator Booker wrong?

BIDEN: I think he is wrong. He has a similar plan. I think that we should change the way we look at prisons. Right now, we're in a situation where, when someone is convicted of a drug crime, they end up going to jail and to prison. They should be going to rehabilitation. They shouldn't be going to prison. When in prison, they should be learning to read and write and not just sit in there and learn how to be better criminals. And when they get out of prison, they should be in a situation where they have access to everything they would have had before, including Pell grants for education, and public housing.

BOOKER: This is a crisis in our country because we have treated issues of race and poverty, mental health and addiction with locking people up and not lifting them up.

Source: July Democratic Primary debate (second night in Detroit) , Jul 31, 2019

Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana

Joe Biden supports decriminalizing marijuana, but isn't going as far as calling for the drug to be legalized on the federal level. "Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana," Biden told voters at a house party in NH.

Asked by CNN if the former vice president supports legalizing marijuana, a Biden campaign spokesman said Biden believes the drug should be decriminalized and that decisions on legalization should continue on the state level. "Vice President Biden does not believe anyone should be in jail simply for smoking or possessing marijuana. He supports decriminalizing marijuana and automatically expunging prior criminal records for marijuana possession, so those affected don't have to figure out how to petition for it or pay for a lawyer. He would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization and would seek to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana's positive and negative health impacts by rescheduling it as a schedule 2 drug," he added.

Source: Denver CBS Local on 2020 Democratic presidential primary , May 16, 2019

2000s: mandatory minimum for marijuana; 2019: decriminalize

[A Biden spokesman said that Biden believes that marijuana should be] "rescheduled as a schedule 2 drug." Marijuana, along with heroin, is classified as a schedule 1 drug, defined as having "no currently accepted medical use." Schedule 2 drugs, which include cocaine, do have accepted medical uses.

His decriminalization position marks a bit of a shift for Biden. "Focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources," Biden said in interview with TIME in 2014. "That's different than [legalization]. Our policy for our Administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy."

While in the Senate, Biden, who over the years expressed opposition to legalizing marijuana, was an architect or supporter of tough-on-crime legislation, including the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, also known as the "drug czar," and establishing mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana.

Source: Denver CBS Local on 2020 Democratic presidential primary , May 16, 2019

Supports marijuana decriminalization, not legalization

He has a long history of being anti-marijuana, calling it a "gateway drug." While vice president, Biden said that he supports decriminalization rather than legalization.
Source: Axios.com "What you need to know about 2020" , Apr 25, 2019

Harsh sentences for crack were a mistake; worked to rectify

Biden said, "I haven't always been right. I know we haven't always gotten things right, but I've always tried." He highlighted his later work with Pres. Obama to address the sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, saying, "It was a big mistake when it was made," he said at the MLK breakfast. "We thought, we were told by the experts, that crack you never go back, it was somehow fundamentally different. It's not different. But it's trapped an entire generation."
Source: CNN KFile, "Predators," on 2020 Democratic primary , Mar 7, 2019

Long record of opposing marijuana legalization

Biden remains one of very few prominent Democrats who've still failed to endorse cannabis legalization at the federal level. The last time he substantively addressed legalization appears to be 2010, in an ABC News interview: "There's a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces and legalizing it," he said. "The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug."
Source: David Bienenstock in Leafly.com on 2020 Democratic primary , Feb 26, 2019

Forbid government study of legalization

In 1996, Biden voted for a bill that required: "The Director shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of [such] a substance (in any form)."
Source: David Bienenstock in Leafly.com on 2020 Democratic primary , Feb 26, 2019

Treating crack, powdered cocaine differently was an unjust

Biden highlighted his work with President Barack Obama to address the sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine. "It was a big mistake when it was made," he said. "We thought, we were told by the experts, that crack you never go back, it was somehow fundamentally different. It's not different. But it's trapped an entire generation."
Source: CNN.com on National Action Network MLK event , Jan 21, 2019

1989: Bush didn't go far enough in War on Drugs

In September 1989, George H. W. Bush delivered a speech outlining his National Drug Control Strategy, in which he called for harsher punishments for drug dealers, nearly $1.5 billion toward drug-related law enforcement, and "more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors" at every level throughout the country.

"Quite frankly, the President's plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand," Biden said in a televised response to Bush's speech. "In a nutshell, the President's plan does not include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, enough prosecutors to convict them, enough judges to sentence them, or enough prison cells to put them away for a long time."

Source: Jacobin Magazine on 2020 Democratic primary , Aug 9, 2018

Proud of backing tough drug laws & penalties

Biden would later brag in the Senate that Congress passed a law sending anyone caught with a rock of cocaine the size of a quarter to jail for a minimum of five years. Biden went on to take credit for a legislative change allowing the government to effectively rob anyone caught dealing drugs, through the policy of civil asset forfeiture, and demanded to know why the Bush administration hadn't sentenced more drug dealers to life in prison or death.
Source: Jacobin Magazine on 2020 Democratic primary , Aug 9, 2018

1981: Militarized domestic police against drugs

Biden can also take partial credit for the militarization of domestic law enforcement. Biden's vote for the 1981 Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act permitted the military to work with police on drug cases. Biden was also a major proponent of the Byrne grant and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) programs, which in practice created more heavily armed police forces increasingly focused on locking up people for minor drug crimes.
Source: Jacobin Magazine on 2020 presidential hopefuls , Aug 2, 2018

Never touched beer, alcohol, cigarettes, or pot

Joe Biden has never had a beer. He has never had a drop of alcohol, not even on Spring Break. And sure, when he's gleefully finger-gunning behind Obama at the State of the Union, you'd be forgiven for thinking that he might be on his third bourbon.

The reason? As a kid, he had noticed that his uncle Boo-Boo drank too much, and he wanted to avoid the same fate. "There are enough alcoholics in my family," he said in 2008. In college Biden was always the designated driver, making him the darling of the parents.

Biden had the same policy with cigarettes and pot. (In college, he once stopped dating a woman because she smoked--deal breaker.) "I don't use anything that could be a crutch," he told a reporter in 1970. "I use football as a crutch and motorcycle jumping and skiing--I ski like a madman. But those are crutches over which I have some control. I'm against chemical crutches.

Source: The Book of Joe, by Jeff Wilser, p. 22 , Oct 24, 2017

OpEd: Executive privilege doesn't apply to "Fast & Furious"

Joe Biden, when serving as a senator in 2007, made it clear that executive privilege applies only to communications involving the president himself. So unless the Attorney General was talking "Fast and Furious" with the President, executive privilege wouldn't apply [as the Obama Administration claims in denying a Congressional subpoena].

Biden was responding to a question posed by the Boston Globe, which asked Biden, "Does executive privilege cover testimony or documents about decision-making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president himself?"

Biden delivered an unqualified response: "The executive privilege only covers communications between the president and his advisors. Even when the privilege does apply, it is not absolute; it may be outweighed by the public's interest in the fair administration of justice."

Biden was speaking about Pres. Bush and the issues of warrantless surveillance of terror suspects in his interview.

Source: Tarpon's Swamp (blog) , Jun 25, 2012

Marijuana is a gateway drug; legalization is a mistake

Leave it to the White House to take a position to the right of Pat Robertson, who questioned the nation's pot laws this week.

VP Joe Biden tells ABC, "There's a difference between sending (someone) to jail for a few ounces and legalizing it. The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe it's a gateway drug. I've spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize."

This comment comes on the heels of Robertson's statement: "I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing (is) costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people. Young people go into prisons - they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That's not a good thing."

Source: CelebStoner.com Entertainment News , Dec 24, 2010

1988: Crafted new law creating national Drug Czar

In 1988, the major drug bill he had spent years crafting became law. Included was the creation of a national drug czar, a key Biden objective and a job that went to Republican William Bennett. Biden vowed to be Capital Hill's point man in pressing the new Bush administration on antidrug spending and helping Bennett navigate his way through a thorny bureaucratic thicket of multiple congressional jurisdictions. When Pres. Bush announced his 1989 antidrug plan, Biden showed no hesitation in criticizing him for not finding initiatives already on the books. He called for higher taxes on cigarettes and tobacco (neither of which he ever used) to pay for them. Biden unleashed his old fire: "Mr. President, you say you want a war on drugs, but if that's what you want we need another D-Day. Instead you're giving us another Vietnam--a limited war fought on the cheap, financed on the sly, with no clear objectives, and ultimately destined for stalemate and human tragedy."
Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.241-242 , Oct 5, 2010

1990 crime bill: tougher penalties for drug offenders

From Judiciary, Biden responded to growing reports of police brutality on the one hand and inadequate law enforcement on the other in an era of heavy drug trafficking. Even before he became the Judiciary chairman, he had called for creation of a national drug czar to cope with the growing flood of narcotics into the American market. For years, Biden had been pushing for the creation of a drug czar, and when Ronald Reagan appointed William Bennett as his drug czar, Biden worked with him coordinating the various governmental agency budgets dealing with narcotics. And in a pending crime bill in 1990, Biden fought for tougher penalties for drug offenders, the bill was watered down by Republican opposition.
Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.306-307 , Oct 5, 2010

US should focus on disrupting Afghanistan drug trade

Afghanistan produces 93% of the world's poppy. I believe we should focus on arresting drug kingpins, disrupting supply routes and destroying the labs that convert poppy into heroin. When the administration testified before our committee, I asked: Has one drug kingpin arrested? And the answer was, no. I have a great deal of experience in this, unfortunately, over the last 30 years and it is absolutely outrageous that not even one single one has been arrested.
Source: Council on Foreign Relations on 2020 candidates , Feb 25, 2008

Took lead on drug policy & narcotics control

Biden has sought to take the lead on drug policy, spearheading creation of a “Drug Czar” and crafting laws to control narcotics--measures that are widely viewed as pretty much of a failure.
Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.180 , Nov 11, 2007

National ban on smoking would reduce chronic illnesses

Q: Over 400,000 Americans have premature death due to smoking or secondhand smoke. Who would favor a national law to ban smoking in all public places?

BIDEN: Yes. I would ban--in all public [places], nationally.

DODD: 3,000 kids start smoking every day in this country.

RICHARDSON: I did it in New Mexico as a national law.

KUCINICH: You bet I’ll go for a national law.

Q: So Biden, Dodd, Richardson, Gravel and Kucinich in favor of a national law.

EDWARDS: Wait, wait, wait, and Edwards.

BIDEN: Let me also add here as well--with 3,000 young people starting to smoke every single day, one of the major causes of the health care issue and Medicare--is because of chronic illnesses associated with things like smoking. So the idea that we wouldn’t draft a national law to stop this in public places is one of the things you’re going to have to do if you’re going to deal with rising health care costs and the same is true with alcohol.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth College , Sep 6, 2007

Absolutely do not lower drinking age from 21

Q: Would you as president remove the requirement that a state have a legal drinking age of 21 in order to receive federal highway funds, thereby returning the drinking age back to the states?

BIDEN: Absolutely no, I would not. The cost of alcoholism in America, the cost of accidents that flow from drunkenness, are astronomical. This is a gigantic problem, just like the drug issue. And the idea that we’re going to suggest that it makes good sense to move the age down to 18 I find to be counterproductive I would not do that.

DODD: No, I agree with Joe on this. The problems associated with alcohol are significant in our country. The evidence is overwhelming.

GRAVEL: I think we should lower it. Anybody that can go fight and die for this country should be able to drink.

KUCINICH: Of course they should be able to drink at age 18, and they should be able to vote at age 16.

Q: No on 18?


EDWARDS: What was the question?

Q: Lower the drinking age to 18?

EDWARDS: I would not.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth College , Sep 6, 2007

FactCheck: 40,000 babies with alcohol syndrome, not 300,000

Biden gave a figure many times too high when he claimed that 300,000 babies are born with deformities each year “because of women who are alcoholics while they’re carrying those children.” According to the CDC, roughly 40,000 babies per year suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Roughly 120,000 babies suffer from a birth defect of any kind, per year, far below the 300,000 Biden cites as being born specifically to alcoholic mothers. We’re unable to find any support for Biden’s 300,000 figure.
Source: FactCheck on 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth , Sep 6, 2007

Increase penalties for dealing drugs near schools

Fighting Drugs: Joe Biden has worked to increase penalties for dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of schools, created the Drug Czar office in the White House, and was an important voice in classifying steroids as drugs and has worked to keep them out of the hands of students.

The Biden Crime Law: Joe Biden wrote the legislation that put 100,000 cops on the streets, and built drug courts to improve rehabilitation treatment for non-violent offenders.

Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.joebiden.com, “Issues” , Sep 1, 2007

Most violent crime is related to drugs

If you count [all the gun crimes], and they’re almost all related to drugs. They’re almost all related to drugs. And the fact of the matter is we have no drug policy in this country. And, secondly, what we do is we, instead of incarcerating our young blacks and other folks in the inner city who are arrested for a violent crime, instead of separating these juveniles, we put them in with adults. They go ahead and they learn the trade. They learn the trade and they come back out.

Secondly, what we do is we also have a notion here where instead of putting them through this process, we should put them through the drug courts. I’m the guy that authored that drug court policy. We should divert them into treatment.

You want to stop death in your neighborhood, take drugs of the corner. You want to take drugs off the corner, take them out of the prison system and put them into treatment.

Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum , Jul 12, 2007

Divert drug offenders out of prison system

  1. The bulk of sentencing inequity is at the state level, not at the federal level.
  2. We need diversion out of the system. I’m the guy that wrote the drug court legislation that is in the law right now.
  3. You have to eliminate the disparity between crack & powdered cocaine. I’ve introduced legislation to do that.
  4. You have to find a way in which you insist that the states apply the law equally--they don’t.
  5. 300,000 will come out addicted from the prison this year
Source: 2007 Democratic Primary Debate at Howard University , Jun 28, 2007

Created nation’s Drug Czar Office & drug courts

As the Co-Chairman of the Senate Drug Caucus, Senator Biden has long been a national voice for effective drug control policies. He created the nation’s Drug Czar Office to oversee the federal government’s anti-drug strategy. Biden also helped create “drug courts” that combine intensive supervision, drug testing and treatment for non-violent first offenders.
Source: PAC website, www.UniteOurStates.com , Dec 12, 2006

Joe Biden on Voting Record

I got drug courts signed into law

I'm the guy that set up drug courts. I wrote it into law and it never got funded. On opioids, I'm the guy who's already begun to make a down payment. In the Cures Act, I put in $1 billion to fight opioid addiction. Here's the deal. Those Chief Executive Officer of drug companies, they should not only be fined, they should go to jail.
Source: 8th Democrat 2020 primary debate, St. Anselm College in NH , Feb 7, 2020

Black community supports decriminalizing marijuana

I think we should decriminalize marijuana. Anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged. I do think it makes sense, based on data, that we should study what the long-term effects are for the use of marijuana. I come out of a black community, in terms of my support. If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me because they know me, they know who I am.
Source: November Democratic primary debate in Atlanta , Nov 20, 2019

2003 sponsorship: RAVE Act to fight date rape drug

He later sponsored the Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act (RAVE) in 2003 and also promoted the disuse and prohibition of "date rape" drugs like ecstasy and ketamine.
Source: The Democrats, by Alexander Moore, p. 26 , Jul 9, 2019

Voted NO on increasing penalties for drug offenses.

Vote to increase penalties on certain drug-related crimes. The amendment would specifically target the manufacturing or trafficking of amphetamines & methamphetamines and possession of powder cocaine, and set stronger penalties for dealing drugs
Reference: Bill S.625 ; vote number 1999-360 on Nov 10, 1999

Voted YES on spending international development funds on drug control.

Vote to add an additional $53 million (raising the total to $213 million) to international narcotics control funding, and pay for it by taking $25 million from international operations funding and $28 million from development assistance.
Reference: Bill HR 3540 ; vote number 1996-244 on Jul 25, 1996

Rename "Drug Abuse" institute as "Diseases of Addiction".

Biden introduced renaming "Drug Abuse" institute as "Diseases of Addiction"

A bill to change the name of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction; and to change the name of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to the National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health. Congress makes the following findings: