Elections

Democrats become first major party to back pathway to legalizing pot

Marijuana plants grow on a hillside near Willow Creek in July 2015 in Humboldt County, Calif.
Marijuana plants grow on a hillside near Willow Creek in July 2015 in Humboldt County, Calif. Sacramento Bee

Democrats meeting in Philadelphia have made history, voting to approve a national platform that endorses a “pathway” for the legalization of marijuana.

When Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders boasted Monday night that he had helped create “the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party,” he made no mention of the pot plank, which calls for “a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

But it came as a clear victory for Sanders and his supporters.

As a first step toward legalization, the platform calls for removing marijuana from the federal government’s list of Schedule 1 drugs, those considered the most dangerous.

As a first step toward legalization, the platform, approved Monday, calls for removing marijuana from the federal government’s list of Schedule 1 drugs, those considered the most dangerous. That list includes LSD and heroin, drugs considered to have a high potential for abuse and no medical purpose.

Legalization backers applauded the vote and said it reflected polls that found a majority of Americans wanted to legalize the drug.

“The fact that one of the country’s two major parties has officially endorsed a pathway to legalization is the clearest sign we’ve seen yet that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “A clear and growing majority of voters want to end prohibition.”

The fact that one of the country’s two major parties has officially endorsed a pathway to legalization is the clearest sign we’ve seen yet that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, does not back across-the-board legalization at the federal level.

The platform includes her often-used language that marijuana legalization should be left to the states, allowing them to be “laboratories of democracy.”

That’s good news for Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, which that have already approved recreational marijuana, along with the District of Columbia.

The platform also endorses medical marijuana, saying the 26 states that allow its use should be able to do so without interference from the federal government.

Delegates approved the platform on a voice vote, but Democrats remain divided. At a meeting earlier this month in Orlando, Florida, the party’s platform committee voted 81-80 to accept the legalization language proposed by Sanders’ supporters, with opponents saying it goes too far.

Sen. Bernie Sanders ended the first night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention by pleading with supporters to rally around Hillary Clinton in November. Hecklers disrupted much of the first day of the convention in Philadelphia, despite Sande

Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, now an honorary adviser to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, had urged the platform committee to reject legalization, arguing that it had had negative consequences in Washington state and Colorado.

In a letter to the committee’s leaders, Kennedy said legalization had produced more marijuana-related traffic fatalities, had increased pot use among young people and had generated more calls to emergency poison-control centers, among other things. Kennedy and other opponents who signed the letter said they feared that legalization would create another tobacco-like industry that would target children and minority communities.

We remain gravely worried about the impacts of today’s sophisticated, commercialized multibillion-dollar marijuana industry.

Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy

“We remain gravely worried about the impacts of today’s sophisticated, commercialized multibillion-dollar marijuana industry,” Kennedy said in the letter.

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said a growing number of state Democratic parties had already backed legalization in their platforms this year. That includes California, which will vote on recreational marijuana in November.

“It’s not particularly surprising that the platform calls for rolling back the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, seeing as the vast majority of Democrats – and a majority of Americans – support making marijuana legal for adults,” he said.

Despite the support, Tvert said he wouldn’t be surprised if the issue didn’t get much attention from speakers at the Democratic convention this week.

“The platform typically reflects the positions of most party members, but it does not necessarily reflect the political or policy priorities of candidates and party leaders,” he said.

Marijuana activists are making their presence known in Philadelphia this week. On Monday, some of them carried a 51-foot joint, bearing the words “Hillary, Deschedule Cannabis Now,” to the convention center.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to rule soon on whether to “reschedule” marijuana, moving it off the Schedule 1 list and formally recognizing its therapeutic value.

Many legalization backers say the federal government should go further and “deschedule” the drug, putting it in the same category as tobacco and alcohol.

Two decades ago California was the first state to allow medical marijuana. Now, voters are expected to be asked whether to legalize recreational use of the drug. The legalization measure is most likely to qualify for the statewide November ballot.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob

What Democratic national platform says about marijuana:

“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African-Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”

Source: Democratic Party

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