Joe Biden took a step towards marijuana decriminalization last week when he granted a mass pardon to anyone convicted of a federal crime for simple possession of the drug. He also asked governors to take similar steps, and directed his administration to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance alongside hard drugs like heroin.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said. “It’s time that we right these wrongs…There are thousands of people who were convicted for marijuana possession who may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities as a result.”
The action will have a minimal direct impact since there are no Americans in a federal person solely for marijuana possession, but 6,500 people that have federal marijuana convictions will be pardoned. While even many Republicans supported the measure, unsurprisingly, the move didn’t sit well with some on the right: “In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders — many of whom pled down from more serious charges,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton said on Twitter. “This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership.”
For a sane reaction to Biden’s move, we phoned up Margo Price. The Nashville-based country singer has her own marijuana line that she’s created in conjunction with Willie Nelson’s company Willie’s Reserve. She’s also an outspoken voice in the marijuana legalization movement, and she writes candidly about her history with cannabis and alcohol in her new memoir Maybe We’ll Make It. Here’s what she had to say.
As a kid, I was always taught that marijuana was a terrible drug that would lead you down the path of destruction and failure and addiction. At the same time, I was told that alcohol was okay because everybody in my life drank it: The preacher, my teachers, parents.
I had my first beer at the age of 12. As a young teenager, I was drinking and throwing up and having a really hard time with it. I didn’t even know what it was doing to my body, but I understand now that there’s not an organ in your body that alcohol doesn’t affect. It also completely turns off the frontal lobe of your brain, meaning you’re just operating on your animal brain. I mean, the literal part of your brain that is affected by drinking is what separates us from animals. It takes away your ability to have compassion.
When I was about 17, I first tried weed. It was a lot different than what I thought it would be. I just laughed my ass off. We ate a bunch of gummy worms and ice cream. And then I woke up in the morning and didn’t feel like garbage. I thought, “Hey, maybe this is better than alcohol?”
[Stand-up comic] Bill Hicks had a lot of great things to say about this. He said, “You’ve got caffeine to keep you going through the week, and then you have alcohol to numb yourself and make you forget about what a pawn you are in their game.”
The things that I love about psilocybin and psychedelics is that they open these new neural pathways, and they create new ways of thinking that can help with depression. They really open your mind. And we’ve got alcohol, which just fuels that depression.
A lot of people don’t even know this, but big alcohol is the same as big tobacco. All these corporations are run by a very small group of men. They are making so much money off of it. I think it keeps people complacent. It just numbs people. I think we can actually have a fuckin’ revolution with everybody wasn’t drunk all the time.
A few years ago, I started a weed line with [Willie Nelson’s company] Willie’s Reserve. I had a lot of conflicting opinions about it since I’m a white woman starting a boutique weed line while so many people of color are incarcerated. That’s why I’ve been giving proceeds to the Last Prisoner Project.
It is just ridiculous that we’re paying for these people that are being locked up for marijuana offenses. You don’t think about the tax dollars that we’re spending to keep people locked up. There’s no reason that it should be a Schedule 1 controlled substance. There’s no reason at all.
While I am thrilled that Biden has made some moves, we need to legalize cannabis on the federal level. We need to release every federal cannabis prisoner and administer clemency for them. Biden has taken a step in the right direction, but it just impacts 6,500 that had simple possession. We need to make cannabis a lower schedule drug than Schedule I. That would be another step in the right direction.
Everyone should call their governor, even if they won’t listen to you. Right now, I just don’t know that we should be celebrating Biden’s move quite as much as we are since it impacts such a small amount of people.
I live in Tennessee, and [Governor] Bill Lee just made a statement that he is not going to take the advice of Biden, and he’s not going to pardon people. Obviously, as we’re seeing with what’s being done with abortion, and reproductive rights, we cannot leave this up to the states because we know we’re never going to get there.
Imagine if some of these laws applied to alcohol sales. It would mean that I couldn’t drive into Tennessee with bourbon from Kentucky. That just sounds insane. And in Tennessee, we have people opening up all these shops that are CBD and Delta-8 [tetrahydrocannabinol]. It’s like, “Just make it legal. This is ridiculous.”
I don’t know if Bill Lee doesn’t understand these issues or if he just doesn’t care. Maybe it’s a combination of both. It’s also just plain ignorance and not being able to evolve. His ideas are outdated. He’s not listening to the people and the desires of people that he represents. He’s resisting the change. And luckily, he’s getting old. Maybe he’ll head off to the nursing home soon and give the job to someone who’s qualified.
I feel like I live in the wrong area code a lot of times because I think that Tennessee will be one of the last states to legalize marijuana. I do have hope about the future though. I think that a lot of people, even if they are conservative, are hopefully beginning to see that the Reefer Madness myth that they have been fed is just a load of horseshit.