DANIEL VAUGHAN: Biden rolls back Trump’s criminal justice reforms with menthol ban

Both the Biden White House and the press have focused on comparing the new administration to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While that’s more than a little presumptuous, it’s funny they think the latest public campaign, banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, helps make their case.

It’s also, bizarrely, the opposite direction America is headed on issues like criminal justice reform.

I need someone to explain why we’re increasingly involved in more discussions and debates about legalizing marijuana, but the Biden administration wants to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Currently, 36 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and 17 have legalized pot for recreational use. That’s true across red, blue, and purple states. And more states consider it every year.

Part of the reason the legalization movement has won ground is pointing out how criminalization has proven to be a bad policy. Yet, here we are in 2021, with the Biden administration pushing to ban menthols. They want to use failed marijuana policies on menthols. Though, in fairness to Biden, he also opposes the legalization of marijuana.

It’s an unusual decision for Biden because the only reason he exists as president of the United States is that Black voters picked him over everyone else in the South Carolina primary field. And the decision to ban menthols directly targets the Black community. In an official statement on the decision, acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Janet Woodcock said:

Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products. With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products.

The height of nanny-state activism is taking the trust of a group of voters and controlling their lives. And it’s not just controlling; this decision would exacerbate policing issues that everyone in the Democratic Party claims to care about.

CBS News reported that “the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and dozens of other criminal justice groups expressed concern that a ban on menthol cigarettes would have ‘serious racial justice implications’ because of criminal penalties that would disproportionately impact people of color.'”

Eric Garner was killed by the NYPD a few years ago after getting placed into a chokehold for selling “illegal” and “untaxed” cigarettes on the street. Democrats are the ones pursuing harsh enforcement of these laws, and they want to do it even more with these bans on menthols and flavored cigars.

For a party that’s obsessed with terms like structural racism and bad policing, Democrats are hyper-focused on policies that have long impacted Black Americans more than other groups in the United States. Remember how, during the pandemic, Democrats liked making the argument that racism was a public health issue on par with a global pandemic? What are we supposed to make of them exacerbating that very issue with policies they want to implement?

Even more ironic is that Biden taking these steps rolls back the criminal justice reform progress made under Donald Trump.

Trump signed the First Step Act into law, which builds a second chance for many prisoners in the federal system. The New York Times called it the “largest federal effort to reduce prison populations ever enacted.” Van Jones went on CNN and called the legislation a “Christmas miracle.” At the Republican National Convention, Trump actively pardoned people to celebrate his criminal justice reform measures.

Compare this to the Biden–Harris administration. Kamala Harris laughed when questioned about her policy of jailing the parents of truant kids, a policy decision that overwhelmingly impacted poor minority communities. After the death of George Floyd, Republicans led by Tim Scott were ready to build off their criminal justice reform legacy. Democrats filibustered that legislation, blocking any police reforms from going through. (Democrats now claim the filibuster is a Jim Crow legacy, which is bizarre when this seems to be an admission that they’re racist.)

And now, on top of all that, the Biden–Harris administration wants to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Instead of building on a bipartisan effort on criminal justice reform, Biden and Democrats want to increase the number of laws that will impact minorities even more.

None of this includes the Biden administration’s stance on gun control. They want to focus on gun control at a time in America when gun ownership among women and minorities is growing at a rapid pace.

The Biden administration is utterly out of touch and out of its mind to think that banning tobacco products won’t impact the issue of police and criminal justice reform. These are the kinds of actions that roll back progress under the Trump administration and increase the odds of more needless violence and mistrust.