Members of a Democratic National Committee panel responsible for drafting the party’s 2016 platform have approved a plank calling for broad marijuana law reform.
“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.”
The language isn’t as specific as some advocates, including Platform Drafting Committee members appointed by the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, would have liked. The Sanders campaign sent an email blast to its list on Thursday asking supporters to weigh in on a proposed plank to take marijuana completely out of the Controlled Substances Act.
To that end, at Friday’s drafting committee meeting, Sanders-appointed members, led by environmental activist Bill McKibben, proposed language reading:
“We will refocus our drug policy by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing states to set their own policies.”
But that measure, as drafted, was quickly tabled, and discussions during the panel’s dinner break resulted in the longer version, which was later adopted unanimously by the 15-person panel.
“This is one of these issues where society has largely made up its mind, like gay marriage, and now it’s time for politicians and political institutions to catch up with them,” McKibben said during a brief discussion before the vote. “The idea that marijuana is maintained in federal policy as a drug equivalent to heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine is not only silly, it’s also damaged millions of lives at this point as people have had to cope with the repercussions of that unsound federal policy. We’ve begun to see experimentation in states with good effect, and it’s important that the federal government let that experimentation continue in full without any of the problems that are caused by marijuana continuing to be a federally scheduled drug.”
The sentiment is broadly shared among Democrats.
An analysis by Marijuana.com earlier this week found that at least 12 state Democratic Party platforms this year are calling for cannabis law reform. Polls show that a significant majority of the party’s voters support ending prohibition, and a growing number of its elected officials in Congress and state legislatures are actively working to enact cannabis legislation.
Drafting committee member Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota, spoke up at the meeting to decry the wide racial disparities in marijuana arrests despite the fact that whites and blacks use cannabis at virtually identical rates. “As a person who would not recommend marijuana usage personally, I’m strongly in favor of this proposal,” he said.
Committee chair Elijah Cummings, a congressman from Maryland, agreed.
“I live in a neighborhood where I hear African-American men almost on a daily basis ask the question, ‘Why are we getting arrested for marijuana when we turn on the television and in Colorado, they’re selling it on television?’ They can’t understand. It doesn’t make sense to them,” he said. “There are a lot of people who feel that our system of justice is just so unfair. You can go to jail in one state and the other one you’re getting rich and everybody knows it, and it’s legal. Hopefully in time this thing will even out.”
The marijuana plank, and others, can still be amended. The drafting committee’s language heads next to the full 187-member platform committee meeting in Orlando on July 8 and 9, and then to the full convention in Philadelphia, which takes place July 25-28.
Photo Courtesy of kristinasavkov.