With marijuana firmly in the national discussion after Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind protections for states with legalized cannabis, many politicians have come out to support legalization. But with many Republicans supporting (or at least, not opposing) Sessions, you'd think the Democratic Party would come out full force in favor of marijuana. But they haven't. So the question is, why not?
Roll Call recently published an article discussing Democrats' reluctance to embrace marijuana. The crux of their argument is that the party doesn't want to be seen as weak. They noted that in the 1980's and 1990's, Republicans often criticized Democrats for being weak on crime, and that led to them winning some key elections. And even today when around 60 percent of the country supports marijuana legalization, Democrats are still worried that coming out in full support of cannabis would renew the "weak on crime" charges.
Another issue is that while marijuana legalization is largely popular, many people are not passionate about the cause. While voters may support legalization, it's often not a priority in terms of issues they care about when choosing who to vote for. Therefore Democrats would rather sit on the fence for the issue to not push anyone away and try to win votes using other issues.
“I hear from political types support for marijuana is broad but not very deep,” said Sam Kamin, professor of marijuana law and policy at the University of Denver. “While it’s popular, it’s not the thing that changes people’s minds to support a candidate.”
Even in states where marijuana is legal, Democratic politicians are reluctant to support the cause. California Senator Dianne Feinstein opposed the state legalizing cannabis in 2016 and hasn't given her position on Sessions' recent policy change. Fellow California Senator Kamala Harris supports reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II narcotic, but hasn't fully supported legalization. And Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto says she does not support legalization, but she does support states' choosing their own laws on the issue and will defend their recent legalization laws.
2018 and 2020 will be major years for Democrats to determine where they want to stand on marijuana. Many people have accused Republicans of possibly being stuck behind the times on the issue, but that would require Democrats to embrace it first.
And if Democrats remain on the fence, that could lead to Sessions enacting more of his anti-cannabis agenda.
(h/t Roll Call)