Does Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden want Americans to go to treatment if they're arrested for marijuana possession?
At his final debate with President Trump on October 22, Biden repeatedly called for rehab as an alternative to jail for "a pure drug offense," adding: "They should be going into treatment across the board."
What did he mean by "across the board"? Does that include marijuana, which he thinks should be decriminalized?
Marijuana prohibition was not addressed at the debate.
The section on race relations in America focused on criminal-justice reform, a subject Trump believes he has the upper hand on Biden because he signed the First Step Act in 2018 (it stands for Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act) and pardoned a handful of drug offenders, most notably Alice Johnson, who spoke at the Republican National Convention.
Biden defended the work of the Obama administration when he was Vice President:
"We got a lot done. Thirty-eight thousand people were released from federal prison. Over 1,000 people were given clemency. We're the ones who put in legislation saying that we could look at how police departments were conducting themselves. We began the process. We lost an election. That's why I'm running: To win back that election and change his terrible policies."
Trump continually harped on crime bills that Biden supported, especially the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a.k.a. Biden's Law, which led to a substantial increase in arrests and mass incarceration of people of color. President Bill Clinton has since apologized for signing the legislation.
Biden volleyed back:
"The fact of the matter is in 2000, after the Crime Bill was in law for awhile, this is the guy who said the problem with the Crime Bill is there are not enough people in jail. There should be no minimum mandatories in the law. That's why I'm offering $20 million to states to change their state 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. We should permanently change the system and that's what I'm going to do."
(Ed. Note: It's mandatory-minimum sentences, not the other way around.)
At their previous debate on September 29, when Trump brought up Hunter Biden's cocaine use, Biden defended him:
"My son, like a lot of people we know at home, had a drug problem. He's ovrtaken it. He's fixed it. He's worked on it. And I'm proud of him."
The one bill Biden would like to take back is the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which among other things, instituted a five-year minimum sentence without parole for possession of five grams of crack, the same penalty for possession of 500 grams of cocaine. This came to be know as the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity. The bill passed with 97 votes in favor, including the Senator from Delaware.
Biden admitted at the October debate:
"In the '80s we passed a bill on drugs and how to deal with drugs. It was a mistake. I've been trying to change it since then, particularly the portion on cocaine."
When repeatedly asked by Trump why didn't he and Obama didn't fix the drug laws when they were running the White House, Biden quietly answered, "We had a Republican Congress."
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