America's main political parties have long trailed public opinion on reforming marijuana laws. But the Democratic Party is poised to close that gap.
This weekend, the Democratic Platform Committee will meet in Orlando, Florida to vote on the final draft of the 2016 platform, which includes a plank that would adopt marijuana reform as party policy. The plank calls for respecting the rights of states to decriminalize marijuana, allowing marijuana researchers to study it more freely and revising laws so that marijuana businesses in legal states can operate without fear of prosecution.
The policy also recognizes that African-Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition in America.
The position could change as the plank must be approved by the full platform committee early next month before being passed along for final approval at the Democratic National Convention at the end of July. But here's the language as it stands right now (courtesy of marijuana.com):
"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."
Reform could have gone further
As Tom Angell of marijuana.com notes, the party could have taken a much more progressive stance on cannabis by adopting the position proposed by Bernie Sanders, who remains an influential figure in this process even though he has effectively ended his bid for the Democratic nomination. Last month, Bill McKibben - a member of the DNC panel appointed by the Sanders campaign - pitched 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That move would have essentially repealed marijuana prohibition nationwide and allowed states to regulate cannabis like alcohol or tobacco.
But instead, the panel decided to adopt language that reflected presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's stance on cannabis, according to Paul Armentano - Deputy Director of the National Organization of Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML).
"The Democratic plank is similar to positions espoused by Hilary Rodham Clinton on the campaign trail acknowledging that states ought to have the flexibility to experiment with alternative cannabis regulatory schemes free from federal interference," he told Civilized. "This position is in line with the beliefs of a majority of Americans, some 59 percent of whom say that the government 'should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow use'."
There's still a chance to strengthen the plank
The party's platform committee could decide to strengthen the plank's language, and one influential congressman is urging them to do just that. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D - Oregon), who is one of the most active marijuana reformers in Congress, sent a letter to the committee yesterday calling on them to make a crucial addition to the platform.
"The federal government needs to do more than just allow states to be the laboratories of democracy when it comes to marijuana. We must actively acknowledge that prohibition has failed and pass the policies to reflect that change. In light of this, we also suggest a meaningful, but not substantive, addition to the beginning of the statement on marijuana: We support ending the failed federal marijuana prohibition."
The letter was signed by Blumenauer as well as numerous activist groups: Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Drug Policy Action, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Could pot pave Hillary's way to the White House?
Embracing marijuana reform isn't just the right thing to do. It's politically shrewd given public support, according to Armentano of NORML.
"National polls consistently show that majorities of voters - particularly male voters, Democrat voters, and younger (millennial) voters - embrace ending cannabis criminalization altogether, and replacing it with a system of legalization and regulation," he told Civilized.
And moving toward reform could help Clinton and other Democratic candidates win votes this November because marijuana legalization has proven to be more popular than presidential candidates in America.
"In the past Presidential election," Armentano added, "marijuana legalization ballot measures in Colorado and Washington proved to be more popular at the polls than either of the major party's Presidential candidates. The 2016 Presidential hopefuls ought to be focused on positioning themselves to be on the right side of history, rather than on the continuation of outdated and unpopular federal prohibitionist policies that are woefully out of touch with both changing public and scientific opinion."
What else is in the draft platform?
Marijuana reform was just one of a few progressive planks that Bernie helped put in the draft platform. Here's a quick overview of the others courtesy of Real Time with Bill Maher.
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