On July 27, at a meeting of the DNC’s platform committee, members were asked to consider an amendment that would establish the federal legalization of cannabis as a policy platform. The amendment failed on a vote of 50-106 (as well as three abstentions).
By rejecting legal marijuana as a policy platform for 2020 — a presidential election year — the Democratic Party is acknowledging that their true priorities lie elsewhere. How else is one to interpret such a definitive rejection? When a piece of potential policy is voted down by two-thirds of those casting a vote, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that one might label such a policy as “unpopular.”
To be fair, of the minority that voted in favor of including the amendment, several delegates spoke with conviction about why legal cannabis at the federal level was an incredibly timely and urgent matter for Democrats to embrace.
“We cannot ignore the fact that the current marijuana criminalization policy has in too many cases been used to target people of color,” said delegate Dennis Obduskey, according to Marijuana Moment. “They are unfairly and disproportionately six times more likely to be arrested than other citizens.”
Another speaker at the meeting was Iowa County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who pitched the amendment as a way to put recent rhetoric regarding the importance of Black lives into meaningful action.
“I’m imploring all of you to approach this with an open mind and heart. Do something big here,” he said. “Take one small but meaningful step toward changing the course of history. If my black life matters to you, you will consider this amendment. We want to get in good trouble today, and I urge you to do the right thing and support it.”
After rejecting the legalization proposal, the committee decided to stick with the language provided in a draft of the party’s formal policy positions on July 23. That language was very similar to the recommendations issued earlier last month by a joint criminal justice reform task force organized by Biden and Sen. Bernier Sanders, his former rival for the Democratic presidential nominee.
In a disappointing turn of events for legalization advocates, the Biden-Sanders task force would ultimately choose not to include federal marijuana legalization as one of its recommendations for Biden.
“It is impractical at best and disingenuous at worst for the Biden campaign to move ahead with these policy proposals,” said Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director, in comments made after the release of the task force’s recommendations.
“Rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act would continue to make the federal government the primary dictators of cannabis policy, and would do little if anything to address its criminal status under federal law. Rescheduling marijuana is intellectually dishonest,” Altieri added. “Just as cannabis does not meet the strict criteria of a Schedule I controlled substance, it similarly does not meet the specific criteria that define substances categorized in schedules II through V.”
Thus far, Biden’s main argument against legalization centers around a claim that more research is needed before he would feel comfortable embracing such a policy. Research proving what precisely remains unclear, making it difficult to specify what it would take to make Biden change his mind.
In the interim, the one-time draft language that now serves as the DNC’s official position on cannabis for 2020 still represents a sizable shift towards more progressive policies, as Marijuana Moment reports:
“[The] document calls for decriminalizing cannabis possession, automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions, federal rescheduling through executive action, legalizing medical cannabis and allowing states to set their own laws. Like presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, it stops short of endorsing adult-use legalization.”
Will these steps forward be satisfactory?
Signs already point to a looming rift between the party’s centrist old-guard and progressive new class when it comes to legalizing weed. Yesterday, Mondaire Jones — who won his party’s primary in New York’s 17th congressional district last month — laid into the DNC during a virtual event.
“It is shameful to me that the Democratic platform…rejected the legalization of marijuana—something that really should not be controversial anymore, especially given what we’ve seen in our so-called criminal justice system, which I call the criminal legal system,” he said. “The incarceration of so many black and brown people, deliberately, intentionally a relic of Jim Crow.”
In a year with no shortage of charged political topics, the subject of legalizing cannabis shows no signs of ceding its spotlight. The DNC has voted, but the people will undoubtedly continue to speak. Now Kamala Harris is in the mix too, which is all to say, stay tuned.