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A tip in Biden's youth vote jar
Immediately after the news broke that President Joe Biden would pardon thousands of people with federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, my Instagram feed was full of accolades from progressive organizers and activists.
Sam Weinberg from Path to Progress had told me just days ago that Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needed to come out in support of marijuana descheduling (in addition to a myriad of other policies) if they really want to excite their base.
So I texted some of these vocal youth leaders, and other young organizers, to see how they felt. Had the topic of weed been coming up in conversations with young voters prior to Biden’s big announcement?
Here’s some of what they had to say:
Sam Weinberg, 21-year-old executive director of Path to Progress
Asked point blank if Biden’s decision to pardon federal offenses of marijuana possession will resonate with younger voters, Weinberg texted:
“It will resonate, but not as much as it could. A viral clip of the president pointing to the camera, smiling, and saying, ‘You bet we’re gonna legalize weed,’ would be the best possible scenario,” he said.
As an organization, Path to Progress in a statement pointed out the strategic timing of the decision just weeks before the midterm elections, calling it “worrisome.”
“The President should understand that the lives and livelihoods of federal prisoners — disproportionately poor, Black, and Hispanic people — are not merely political tools,” Path to Progress said.
Hoping to learn how and if the topic of weed and Biden’s potential actions on decriminalizing marijuana have been coming up in conversations for student organizers, I messaged Emily Harris, a 21-year-old student organizer with Un-PAC on Penn State’s campus.
Harris said it had not come up previously with the voters she’s been talking to on campus. Though she personally applauded Biden’s move, she has some questions.
“It’s great to see things like this — but when what seems like common sense reform becomes something to be celebrated, a significant moment in history, it’s bittersweet. What really comes to mind is the question of ‘Why has this taken so long to happen in the first place?,’” Harris asked.
“I can’t speak as much to what students on campus feel this particular issue based on my experience doing nonpartisan work, but I do know that the disconnect that many young people feel between themselves and our current system is due in large part to a lack of clear, decisive action. That’s why it’s so important for us to hold our politicians accountable; if they have the power, why has it taken so long to use it?”
For its part, Gen Z for Change posted a TikTok in hopes of alerting its 1.5M follows of the #breakingnews.
Olivia Julianna, 19-year-old politics director at Gen Z for Change
"This is great but we still need to puff puff pass legislation to legalize marijuana. I’m focused on electing democrats to Congress so we can do that,” Julianna said in an email statement.
Victoria Hammett, 24-year-old deputy director of Gen Z for Change
"In a country where tens of thousands of people are incarcerated or prevented from getting jobs because of marijuana offenses, while we simultaneously have booming marijuana companies making tons of money, pardoning these folks is a great move, but the bare minimum. Hopefully this move by Biden will encourage states to follow and inspire Congress to make it federally legal,” Hammett said in the same email.
Meanwhile, Santiago Mayer, 20-year-old director of Voters of Tomorrow, said the Biden administration’s actions Thursday were in line with what the organization has heard from Gen Z Americans and could potentially help move the needle for young voters.
“It’s overwhelmingly clear that our generation envisions a future where marijuana is legal and destigmatized. Our data backs that up big time. Voters of Tomorrow is thrilled to see President Biden take a major step forward in, as he put it, righting the wrongs of outdated laws surrounding marijuana possession. We hope championing full legalization is among his next steps,” Mayer said in a statement sent via text.
“The administration’s actions today and more broadly during his time in office are sending the message that they understand our mission to build a more equitable America. It’s this message that will turn out young people to vote this November in historic numbers,” he added Thursday.
I also reached out to Brianna Wu, the 45-year-old executive director of the progressive Rebellion PAC (and a former candidate for Congress in Massachusetts), when I saw that she had tweeted a plea to younger voters:
Asked for her reaction to the news, Wu, who emphasized she is not a Biden fan, nor a centrist, said:
“Credit where credit is due. Joe Biden has really delivered on progressive policies in the last few months. Student loan forgiveness, significant action on climate change, and federal pardons for possession of marijuana? These are the things Elizabeth Warren and Bernie supporters like myself wanted.”
“But, the stakes are very high for younger voters now. Biden has expended a lot of political capital on policies for younger people. Will they reward that by showing up to vote in the midterms?,” she asked.
“If they do, and we win, every politician in American will see that delivering for younger voters is a viable electoral strategy. If they don’t, every politician in America will learn the opposite lesson. It’s not worth it to fight for these policies,” Wu said in a text.
“I know I’m sending all of them a message by voting. ‘Do more of this.’ And I hope you will too.”
Max Lubin, 32-year-old CEO of Rise
And in a voice note, Max Lubin said he’s not so sure the age-old hypothesis that Democrats should legalize marijuana if they care about turning out young voters in large numbers holds true, given that the legalization of marijuana has become so popular and millions of people live in states where weed is legal — though he does think the decision will boost Biden’s approval rating amongst younger Americans.
“Will this first step in policy change, the pardoning and then the review to reschedule… will that really make a difference for folks in a land where abortion is on the ballot and the democracy is under attack and inflation is a mess? I don’t know, but I’m sort of interested in finding out,” Lubin said.
So — whether or not Biden’s move to fulfill a campaign promise and take first steps on marijuana decriminalization will help drive young voters to the polls is tricky to predict, but his actions this week certainly won’t hurt and are, at least, another proverbial tip in the jar for Biden and Democrats in November.