As November's Congressional midterm elections approach, you may be wondering where Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stands on cannabis legalization. In short, Feinstein's position on cannabis legislation has evolved over her long tenure in the United States Congress; she has come from opposing the 1996 ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana and the 2016 measure to legalize recreational cannabis to seemingly embrace both in recent years.
Sen. Feinstein became the first woman elected as Mayor of San Francisco, California, from 1978 to 1988, after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in California's 1992 special election, becoming (alongside the election of Sen. Barbara Boxer) one of the state's first female Senators. Feinstein, at 84, is the chamber's oldest member.
Many speculate whether Feinstein's sudden support of recreational cannabis is nothing more than a political stunt as she runs for her 5th consecutive term – Feinstein is the longest current-serving female U.S. Senator – as she has faced criticism for not being progressive enough to represent such a liberal-leaning state. Leafly has called her “California's last prohibitionist,” and she did not earn the endorsement of the California Democratic Party for the 2018 general election. At one time, Feinstein called cannabis a “gateway drug” with a “growing addiction factor.”
Feinstein famously opposed Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act), the 1996 measure to legalize medical marijuana, as well as Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot imitative to legalize recreational marijuana, both of which passed. She is also the only Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to have opposed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (now titled Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment), which also passed to prevent the Department of Justice from spending federal money on prosecuting individuals and companies complying with state medical cannabis laws.
In 2016, Feinstein sponsored the Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (S. 3269), which would expand the authority for conducting medical research on cannabidiol (CBD), and voted in favor of the Daines/Merkley Amendment, which expanded medical cannabis access to veterans. She said at one point that year: "I am not really for recreational use of marijuana. Medical use, yes.”
In early 2018, however, Feinstein reversed course and voiced her support for recreational cannabis. Her office attributes her changed view to meetings with advocates and cannabis-consuming constituents, especially those with young children who have benefited from using medical marijuana. In May, Feinstein told McClatchy that she "strongly supports" medical marijuana, and she said:
"Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law... My state has legalized marijuana for personal use, and as California continues to implement this law, we need to ensure we have strong safety rules to prevent impaired driving and youth access, similar to other public health issues like alcohol.”
Our Grade: B+
Even though Feinstein now says she supports recreational cannabis, her advocacy for the right to use marijuana has always been sparse. Even her response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind the Obama-era “Cole Memo” was lukewarm, as she said "it’s all unclear to me, and it’d be helpful to have some clarity so we know exactly what the situation is,” rather than speak up to protect her state's rights.