As frustration mounts over unfulfilled promises to reform federal marijuana laws, a recent, controversial report has emerged about President Joe Biden’s daughter-in-law allegedly receiving U.S. Secret Service protection as she shopped at a cannabis dispensary in California.
The Daily Mail reported late last month that Melissa Cohen, who is married to Biden’s son Hunter, was spotted leaving a Malibu dispensary called 99 High Tide, with a “small unidentified purchase.”
While marijuana is legal for adult use in California, it remains federally illegal. The controversy isn’t so much not about Cohen reportedly patronizing the shop; rather, it’s about the apparent use of a federally funded Secret Service detail to protect the transaction at a time when Biden has failed to fulfill his campaign pledges to decriminalize cannabis and free people who are serving time behind bars for past convictions.
Biden has said that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over cannabis, and he’s expressed support for letting states set their own policies without federal intervention, but he hasn’t taken meaningful steps to end federal criminalization as he promised on the campaign trail.
The president did grant clemency to 78 people, including those with non-violent federal drug convictions on their records, in April. But advocates have made clear that they want to see bolder executive action, like a mass pardon for all people who remain behind bars over marijuana.
To that end, the optics of a presidential relative reportedly getting Secret Service protection while appearing to engage in an activity that remains federally prohibited and for which the president is allowing people to remain in prisons despite campaign promises to the contrary raises questions.
However, it’s important to note that while the Daily Mail reported that the person in plainclothes who appears in the outlet’s photos next to Cohen is a Secret Service agent, Marijuana Moment has not been able to independently confirm that. It’s also possible that Cohen could have purchased non-cannabis items at the dispensary, or federally legal hemp items.
The White House did not respond to a request to fact-check The Daily Mail’s reporting and offer comment.
BOWL PAC Founder Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment that if the reporting is accurate, he hopes that “Melissa had a positive experience and will convey the normalcy of buying cannabis to the president and encourage his vocal support for legalization.”
(Disclosure: Strekal supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
While Biden has backed modest cannabis reform proposals, the White House has made clear that his overall position in opposition of adult-use legalization has not changed, despite supermajority support for the policy change among voters in his party.
Instead, the president’s only public comment on marijuana policy since taking office happened last month, when said in response to a reporter’s question about cannabis clemency that his administration is “working on” it.
Biden’s broader opposition to recreational legalization hasn’t stopped congressional lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), from working to end federal prohibition legislatively, however.
The leader filed a much-anticipated legalization bill that would also impose a federal tax on cannabis sales and promote social equity last month. However, chances are slim that the comprehensive reform proposal has enough support to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advanced through the chamber.
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Following the bill filing, Schumer said that he’s committed to getting “something” done on cannabis reform “this year.” He’s seemingly opened the door to moving a separate package of incremental marijuana proposals, including cannabis banking reform, that he’s been discussing with bicameral and bipartisan offices.
The House, meanwhile, has approved a bill to federally legalize cannabis on two occasions.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked recently about Biden’s clemency plans for people with federal marijuana convictions, and she said simply that he is continuing to “evaluate further uses of clemency powers.”
A report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) last year affirmed that the president has it within his power to grant mass pardons for cannabis offenses. It also said that the administration can move to federally legalize cannabis without waiting for lawmakers to act.
Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), said in June that the Biden administration is “monitoring” states that have legalized marijuana to inform federal policy, recognizing the failures of the current prohibitionist approach.