Republicans have a certain obligation to act as if everything President Biden does is an assault on American values. His sweeping pardons this week of thousands who were jailed for marijuana possession — and announcement that the drug’s federal classification will be reevaluated — are no exception.
But, perhaps because the nation overwhelmingly believes that cannabis should be legal, and the issue doesn’t stoke the culture war like matters of race, gender, and sexuality, the right-wing outrage machine had a mostly quiet reaction to these executive orders. Indeed, over the past year or so, several high-profile Republicans have actively pushed similar efforts. In May 2021, Rep. Dave Joyce and Rep. Don Young, of Ohio and Alaska, proposed to take cannabis off the federal list of controlled substances. And last November, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina introduced a bill to decriminalize and regulate pot.
The extreme conservatives who did take a stab at condemning Dank Brandon could barely muster a reason to be angry. Sen. Tom Cotton and Newsweek’s right-wing opinion editor Josh Hammer both took the line that many of the pardons were going to violent criminals who had pled down from much more serious charges. Neither was able to cite such a case. Ann Coulter, in a short Substack post, simply imagined one.
Meanwhile, the Daily Wire, which has previously run teeth-gnashing coverage on the “physical, mental, and emotional problems associated with marijuana,” published one straightforward news story on Biden’s move toward decriminalization — and approximately ten times as much coverage of Tucker Carlson interviewing Kanye West. That outlet’s editor emeritus, Ben Shapiro, who this year said of weed, “The Left really does wish to inoculate us all into submission,” did not seem to address the pardons at all.
On Fox News, Laura Ingraham made a very half-hearted “slippery slope” argument, pointing out that after Oregon legalized pot for recreational use, they also decriminalized possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, and meth, which is now punishable by a $100 fine. What exactly is being threatened here? Oregon didn’t collapse into anarchy. It’s a nice place to visit or live, in fact. And the law couldn’t have passed without support from some of the state’s many conservative voters.
Renae Eze, press secretary for Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, tried to sound tough and defiant when addressing whether her boss would pardon state-level marijuana offenses as Biden encouraged. “Texas is not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from the leader of the defund police party and someone who has overseen a criminal justice system run amok with cashless bail and a revolving door for violent criminals,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — even though Abbott stated earlier this year that he thinks pot should be decriminalized.
No, it looks like the GOP’s heart isn’t in this fight, and the best a few mouthpieces can do is cycle through the motions. It makes sense: the party’s legislators have already seen the writing on the wall, and their constituents’ desire for an end to the prohibition of cannabis. Few would find any benefit to standing in the way, and that group of hard-liners is rapidly dwindling. Besides, all Biden has actually done so far is expunge the criminal records of several thousand people no longer behind bars.
If the country continues in this direction, when weed finally becomes legal throughout the U.S., there may be no one left to get mad about it.