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Did Marijuana Reform Clinch Sanders' Support For Clinton?

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders may be out of the running for the Democratic nomination, but he and his supporters did notch a few key victories in the fight over the Democratic Party's official stance on issues like minimum wage and marijuana. And those wins could pay off for Hillary Clinton in the form of Sanders' endorsement for her presidential campaign.

Following a meeting that hashed out the party's official platform last weekend, a triumphant Sanders released this statement."Thanks to the millions of people across the country who got involved in the political process – many for the first time – we now have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic party."

Here's the cannabis plank that the Democratic Platform Committee approved during their meeting in Orlando, Florida.

"Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization."

That last word - legalization - is a huge win for Sanders. The original draft of the plank called for decriminalization instead of legalization. But after some wrangling, his delegates won the fight to steer the party toward a more progressive stance on cannabis.

Marijuana reform divided Democrats

Over the last month, marijuana became the latest divisive issue to drive a wedge between Clinton and Sanders supporters. In June, the Sanders campaign lost a fight to make the party's position on cannabis more progressive. Originally, The Bern's delegates wanted the following language for the party's marijuana plank:

"We will refocus our drug policy by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing states to set their own policies."

That phrasing is very similar to Sanders' campaign promise to effectively repeal pot prohibition. But the panel drafting the party's cannabis plank opted for language that more closely reflected Hillary's position instead:

"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. We support policies that will allow more research to be done 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, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African-Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites despite similar usage rates."

However, the wrangling over marijuana continued. At last weekend's meeting of the Democratic Platform Committee, David King - a lawyer and Sanders delegate from Tennessee - blasted America's drug laws for classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means the government thinks that marijuana is a dangerous substance with no medical value.

David Weigel of The Washington Post says that King argued cannabis was lumped together with heroin to persecute "hippies and blacks." Which is true according to John Ehrlichman - former domestic policy chief for President Richard Nixon - who claimed in 1994 that the War on Drugs was concocted to legally harass groups who opposed Nixon.

But rectifying the wrongs of the past wasn't popular among the divided delegates at the meeting in Orlando. The amended plank (quoted near the beginning of this piece) passed by a vote of 81-80, causing Bernie supporters in the room to cheer and Clinton supporters to complain during the uproarious session, according to Weigel's report. He says that people weren't sure if the revised language would stand until a Clinton delegate conceded the issue.

"Finally, former senator Mark Pryor (Ark.), a Clinton delegate, walked up to a microphone to announce that opponents of the amendment were unhappy that the compromise language had been replaced - but not unhappy enough to fight about it," Weigel wrote.

What's next?

Clinton delegates might not have liked giving in on marijuana, minimum wage and climate change reform. But they made substantial gains along the way. Because of those concessions, Sanders is expected to formally endorse Clinton's presidential bid tomorrow when the former rivals appear at a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

As for the platform, the document has to be approved at the Democratic National Convention later this month in Philadelphia, when Clinton is expected to officially become the party's presidential nominee. As for the platform, Democratic Party candidates aren't bound to uphold party policy. So Clinton won't necessarily have to follow through with the cannabis plank if she becomes president. But the platform does have symbolic value in terms of normalizing cannabis and demonstrating how attitudes toward it have changed.

h/t The Guardian, Slate

Banner image: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the CNN Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas last October. (photo by Joseph Sohm /


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