Pubdate: Tue, 01 May 2018
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2018 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Kate Irby


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a longtime opponent of legalizing recreational
marijuana, now says the federal government should not interfere in
California's legal marijuana market.

In comments to McClatchy Tuesday -- in the middle of a 2018 campaign
for her seat in a state that has settled into the legal pot market --
the California Democrat said she was open to considering federal
protection for state-legalized marijuana.

Feinstein's office said her views changed after meetings with
constituents, particularly those with young children who have
benefited from medical marijuana use.

"Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are
adhering to California law," said Feinstein, who faces a challenge
from Kevin de Leon, who's attracting many liberals who see Feinstein
as too moderate.

While not a champion of the marijuana issue, de Leon hasn't opposed
legalization either. Democratic consultant Steven Maviglio said de
Leon could use opposition to portray Feinstein as out of touch, an
argument the strategist said has been the challenger's "meal ticket."

While dozens of states have legalized marijuana at least for medical
use, it remains illegal at the federal level. Controversy erupted in
January when Attorney General Jeff Sessions dropped an Obama-era
policy that gave states leeway to create legal markets, prompting
fears that the federal government would start targeting dispensaries
it felt they were operating legally.

Feinstein explained her latest thinking about marijuana in comments to

"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," she said.

Feinstein has said that when she was a parole officer she saw too many
criminals who "began with marijuana and went on to hard drugs."

Legalization advocates have accused her of spreading "'reefer
madness'-style disinformation campaigns" about California's 2016
ballot effort to legalize adult use of marijuana, called Proposition

Feinstein remained vocally opposed to Prop 64. She gave qualified
support for medical marijuana use at the time, but not for
recreational use.

In Congress, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has been drafting a bill with
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that would leave the choice of
legalizing marijuana officially up to the states. Its passage would be
significant even in states such as California that have already
legalized pot, easing the banking issues plaguing the industry and
generally providing more stability.

Those running marijuana dispensaries typically have to deal largely in
cash, and cannot use most banking services. Banks fear federal
penalties if they work with an illegal industry. That leaves
dispensaries highly vulnerable to theft and attracts criminal elements.

Gardner has said President Donald Trump told him he would sign such a
bill, and Gardner's priority has been drafting one with a high chance
of support from members of both parties.

Feinstein said she would need to review Gardner's bill "to determine
whether it's the best path forward," before commenting on it, but she
indicated she could be supportive of his vision.

Since the bill would almost certainly need to go through the Senate
Judiciary Committee, Feinstein would be an important ally. Though
limited in her abilities as the top Democrat on the committee rather
than the chair, Feinstein and Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have
been in near-lockstep on the issue in the past.

The two have introduced multiple bills looking to ease regulations on
researching the medical benefits of cannabidiol, a substance derived
from marijuana. They introduced the most recent iteration in May 2017,
but both stopped short of advocating for medical marijuana at the
time, calling for more research into the issue as a logical next step.

Tuesday, she said she "strongly supports" the legalization of medical

In 2015 Feinstein was the sole Democrat on the Senate Appropriations
Committee to vote against preventing federal funds from being used to
target state-legalized medical marijuana dispensaries. Several
Republicans supported the amendment.

The five-term senator is up for reelection in 2018, in a state that
approved legalization 57 percent to 43 percent in 2016. Across the
country, 61 percent of people believe marijuana should be legalized,
according to a 2017 poll by Pew Research Center.

Feinstein is generally expected to coast to reelection, and Democratic
political strategists don't see opposition as hurting her greatly.
Feinstein is beating her closest opponent, fellow Democrat Kevin de
Leon, by 26 points, according to the most recent poll by the Public
Policy Institute of California.

"Overall it's negligible. It could be part of the whole anti-Trump,
'What are they doing in Washington?' issue, but it's only a hot button
for some people," Maviglio said.

"However, there is a distinct possibility that you could see a
coordinated campaign going after her on this, given financial
interests in the state," he added.

Championing legal marijuana could also be more advantageous this
cycle, as a new California law goes into effect to automatically
pre-register teens to vote when they apply for a driver's license or
state ID card. State officials estimate it will add hundreds of
thousands of new registered voters every year.

Among those voters, marijuana legalization is hugely important,
according to Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the California Young
Democrats, which has 135 chapters throughout the state and more than
10,000 members. While marijuana is already legal in the state,
Rodriguez-Kennedy said it also has wide-ranging present and historical
effects on other issues important to young people, such as mass
incarceration, health care and racial biases.

"It's easy to look at this one issue and see it as sort of silly, but
it broadly touches on all these intersectional issues,"
Rodriguez-Kennedy said. "So I can say with confidence that this
matters greatly to young Democrats."

Support for marijuana legalization among millennials is at 70 percent,
according to the Pew poll, while 35 percent of Feinstein's generation,
the silent generation, supports legalization. But even among that
group, support has slowly climbed in recent years.

California Young Democrats have endorsed de Leon in the Senate race,
and Rodriguez-Kennedy said this issue played into their view of de
Leon as a more progressive candidate better suited to represent them.
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MAP posted-by: Matt