Democrats Pressured on Marijuana Platform Plank


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By Tom Angell

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Democratic National Committee leaders are facing pressure from both legalization supporters and opponents over the marijuana platform plank that a key party panel voted in favor of last month.

While the plank was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Democrats’ 15-member Platform Drafting Committee, the party’s full 187-member Platform Committee is set to take up the draft document on Friday and Saturday. And all 4,765 delegates will have a chance to make changes at the convention taking place in Philadelphia July 25-28.

The plank currently reads:

“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.”

But cannabis legalization supporters are asking Democratic leaders to add one additional clause making it crystal clear that the party wants to repeal federal prohibition laws that are currently on the books.

“We are encouraged to see that the DNC Platform Committee’s marijuana amendment reflects the views of the nation and the Democratic Party,” reads a letter sent on Thursday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and several leading marijuana law reform organizations. “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 groups, including Drug Policy Action, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and others, want Platform Committee co-chairs Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin to push for the new language.

But the Democratic leaders are also facing pressure from a group of organizations that are opposed to marijuana legalization.

“While we agree that more legitimate medical research on marijuana should be done, and that racial disparities in law enforcement should be addressed, we urge you not to view legalization and commercialization of marijuana as a solution to these serious matters,” the prohibitionists wrote in a letter to the Platform Committee co-chairs. “Please do not legitimize Big Marijuana further; rather, we urge you to place public health and social justice over industry profits.”

Signatory groups include Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Drug Free America Foundation, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, Faces and Voices of Recovery and National Alliance of Alcohol and Drug Counselors. Also signing on are former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and former National Institute on Drug Abuse head Robert DuPont.

It is unclear if the anti-marijuana coalition wants the current language in the draft platform to be removed or if it is primarily seeking to guard against the sort of expansion that legalization advocates are asking for in their letter. The prohibitionists’ letter may be intentionally vague, and not include any specific asks, so as to set up a possible claim of victory in the event no new pro-reform language is added at the full Platform Committee or convention stages.

“The DNC should resist any calls to legalize drugs,” said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana said in a press release announcing the anti-cannabis letter. “The legalization of marijuana is about one thing: the creation of the next Big Tobacco. Marketers cleverly package pot candies to make them attractive to kids, and pot shops do nothing to improve neighborhoods and communities. Moreover, there are other, more effective ways to address questions of racial justice and incarceration. So does the DNC want to be known for fostering the next tobacco industry, or will it stand with the scientific community, parents and public health?”

Regardless of repeated opposition arguments along those lines, however, the Democratic Party and its members seem to be quickly arriving at a consensus on the failure of marijuana criminalization and the need for new policies.

An analysis by found that at least 12 state Democratic Party platforms this year are calling for cannabis law reform. Polls consistently 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.

Hillary Clinton, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, while personally not yet in favor of legalizing marijuana, says she supports letting states enact their own policies without federal interference and has pledged to reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.

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