Did the Democratic Party just endorse national legalization of weed?
NO, BUT the party added “marijuana law reform” as a platform plank to be adopted this month. It’s a step.
The two big US political parties tend to scrape together an agenda and revise their platforms in presidential election years. Bernie Sanders (remember him?) was doing pretty well around the time the platform drafting committee was convened, and he got to appoint 7 of its 15 members. Those members proposed some short and sweet language around cannabis, offering that “we will refocus our drug policy by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing states to set their own policies.” (Period.) This language dovetailed with Bernie’s Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, which was shipped off to the Senate Judiciary Committee last November, never to be heard from again.
Like Bernie’s bill, his members’ platform proposal was bold but failed to win the day. Instead, the newly adopted language reads, “we believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so....” You would stop reading if I transcribed the entire thing. It does, however, talk about the need to ease research barriers and it makes solid arguments about the status quo’s “unacceptable disparate impact on African Americans.” Both points are winners.
The adopted language stops short of talking about ending federal prohibition, however, or even allowing states to do anything beyond “decriminalization.” In all, it feels hedge-y and scrubbed. While true believers will not be impressed, it is nice to see a major political party officially rethink the War on Drugs as it relates to weed. And it will be nice in an official sense when this platform plank is adopted by the Democratic Party’s delegates in Philadelphia later this month. (You catch that action live on C-SPAN.)
Ultimately, ending federal prohibition is more akin to peeling an onion than popping a balloon. We are far enough along that states like Oregon can feel confident the end is near, and that federal agents will not try to reconstruct things. Last week’s development will also be seen as another positive signal to the eight states with November ballot initiatives to legalize weed, including California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Those programs will only fail if the states truly bungle things.
It would have been terrific to see the Dems do something less circumspect and more impactful, à la Bernie’s plank. But big tent parties tend to move slowly, even when outcomes seem inevitable. It is also important to remember that weed still makes people nervous and the idea of ending prohibition is still perplexing for some. The rest of us are already looking ahead to 2020.
Send your cannabis legal questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.