A coalition of youth political activist groups sent a letter to former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday, imploring him to adopt a “bold” policy platform including issues such as marijuana legalization if he wants to make up for his deficit in support from young voters ahead of Election Day.
The organizations stressed that the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate’s pledge for a “return to normalcy” is not enticing to younger generations who “need a vision for the future, not a return to the past.”
Part of that vision, the groups said, involves “comprehensive reform of our criminal legal system.”
“End the War on Drugs and support the equitable legalization of marijuana” the letter states, referencing legislation to federally deschedule cannabis and invest in social equity that was embraced by many of Biden’s rivals for his party’s nomination.
Full letter here: https://t.co/MFkCUq23Qw
— NextGen America (@NextGenAmerica) April 8, 2020
The groups—which include Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and IfNotNow Movement—also want Biden, who became the presumptive Democratic nominee after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) dropped out on Wednesday, to address mass incarceration more broadly.
The letter calls on him to back policies to encourage states to reduce their prison population by 50 percent “while supporting massive investment in housing, drug treatment, diversion, education and health programs.”
The Alliance for Youth Action, March for Our Lives Action Fund, NextGen America, Student Action and United We Dream Action also signed the letter.
On legalization, the former vice president is demonstrably out of step with voters in his party, particularly young people. He’s maintained opposition to comprehensive reform, only going so far as to support medical cannabis legalization, decriminalizing possession, modest federal rescheduling, expunging prior convictions and letting states set their own laws.
In contrast, Sanders has long backed full legalization with an emphasis on benefiting communities harmed by the war on drugs, and late into his campaign he pledged to use executive action to legalize cannabis nationwide on his first day in office.
A majority of Americans—66 percent—are in favor of legalization, according to a Gallup poll released last year. An analysis of demographic data shows that Biden’s continued support for marijuana prohibition is even more problematic. Among those 18-29, 88 percent want cannabis legalized. And for those 30-49, 71 percent are in favor of the policy change.
Electoral polling data shows that while Biden has assembled much of the “Obama coalition” that helped his former boss ascend to the presidency in 2008, his support from young voters is sorely lacking. Many Democrats believe that he will need to take big steps to shore up youth support in order to emerge victorious over President Trump in November.
Many of the Sanders supporters that Biden needs to attract have moved beyond calling for simple legalization and want to see restorative justice prioritized to not only end the drug war but ensure that people most hurt by punitive anti-drug policies, including those Biden helped enact as a senator, are recognized and helped.
Additionally, the letter argues that public college should be tuition-free and available for “all students, regardless of income, citizenship status, or criminal record.” On a related note, former presidential rival Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has emphasized the need to ensure that prior drug convictions do not disqualify students from federal financial aid, and he filed a bill to that end. Last year, a House committee approved similar legislation.
“New leadership in November is an imperative for everything our movements are fighting for. But in order to win up and down the ballot in November, the Democratic Party needs the energy and enthusiasm of our generation,” the letter states. “We need you to champion the bold ideas that have galvanized our generation and given us hope in the political process.”
But it’s not enough to simply adopt the planks the groups laid out—which also include Medicare for All, immigration reform and a wealth tax, among other policies. They also say Biden must demonstrate that he’s willing to prioritize the issues and show “real passion for addressing them.”
“Calling for solutions that match the scale, scope, and urgency of the problems we are facing is not radical. If nothing else, this moment of crisis should show that it is the pragmatic thing to do,” the groups said. “We want results and we’re leading some of the movements that will help deliver them.”
Part of prioritizing drug policy reform should also involve appointing individuals from a younger generations to positions where they can help enact the changes. The groups recommended Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Equal Justice Initiative leader Bryan Stevenson to be part of a working group on criminal justice.
“Young people are highly aware of what’s at stake in this election, and we’re organizing through thick and thin to make Donald Trump a one-term president,” NextGen America Executive Director Ben Wessel said in a press release. “But defeating Trump means understanding that our problems are bigger than Trump alone.”
Read the youth advocacy groups’ letter to Biden:
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Marc Nozell.