Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jul 2016
Source: Portland Mercury (OR)
Column: Ask a Pot Lawyer
Copyright: 2016 The Portland Mercury
Author: Vince Sliwoski


Did the Democratic Party Just Endorse Legalization?

Did the Democratic Party just endorse national legalization of weed?

NO, BUT the party added "marijuana law reform" as a platform plank to 
be adopted this month. It's a step.

The two big US political parties tend to scrape together an agenda 
and revise their platforms in presidential election years. Bernie 
Sanders (remember him?) was doing pretty well around the time the 
platform drafting committee was convened, and he got to appoint 7 of 
its 15 members. Those members proposed some short and sweet language 
around cannabis, offering that "we will refocus our drug policy by 
removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing 
states to set their own policies." (Period.) This language dovetailed 
with Bernie's Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, which 
was shipped off to the Senate Judiciary Committee last November, 
never to be heard from again.

Like Bernie's bill, his members' platform proposal was bold but 
failed to win the day. Instead, the newly adopted language 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...." You would stop reading if I 
transcribed the entire thing. It does, however, talk about the need 
to ease research barriers and it makes solid arguments about the 
status quo's "unacceptable disparate impact on African Americans." 
Both points are winners.

The adopted language stops short of talking about ending federal 
prohibition, however, or even allowing states to do anything beyond 
"decriminalization." In all, it feels hedge-y and scrubbed. While 
true believers will not be impressed, it is nice to see a major 
political party officially rethink the War on Drugs as it relates to 
weed. And it will be nice in an official sense when this platform 
plank is adopted by the Democratic Party's delegates in Philadelphia 
later this month. (You catch that action live on C-SPAN.)

Ultimately, ending federal prohibition is more akin to peeling an 
onion than popping a balloon. We are far enough along that states 
like Oregon can feel confident the end is near, and that federal 
agents will not try to reconstruct things. Last week's development 
will also be seen as another positive signal to the eight states with 
November ballot initiatives to legalize weed, including California's 
Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Those programs will only fail if the 
states truly bungle things.

It would have been terrific to see the Dems do something less 
circumspect and more impactful, a la Bernie's plank. But big tent 
parties tend to move slowly, even when outcomes seem inevitable. It 
is also important to remember that weed still makes people nervous 
and the idea of ending prohibition is still perplexing for some. The 
rest of us are already looking ahead to 2020.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom