A congresswoman widely known as a strong advocate for federal marijuana reform helped defeat an amendment that would have added a cannabis legalization plank to the Democratic party’s 2020 platform.
During a Democratic National Committee platform committee meeting on Monday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) was among the 106 delegates who voted against the measure, preserving a more modest reform agenda that more closely aligns with that proposed by presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Other notable “no” votes came from former Obama staffers and cabinet officials and the mayors of Atlanta and Boston.
But the Lee vote stands out. The congresswoman is a cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, the sponsor of a comprehensive legalization bill and a consistent critic of the war on drugs. Just last month, she led a “Dear Colleagues” letter calling on members to pursue legalization as part of police reform legislation.
Lee told Marijuana Moment that she supports a drug policy plan rolled out by a criminal justice task force organized by Biden and former primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that stops short of proposing adult-use cannabis legalization. However, she emphasized that “I fully intend to continue working with a future Biden Administration to move cannabis legalization forward.”
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) July 28, 2020
Asked to respond to Lee’s platform vote, fellow Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) pointed out to that “Americans overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis.”
“And as our party works to address racial injustices, ending the failed war on drugs must be front and center,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Despite this missed opportunity, we’ll continue our work in Congress and the states to end this senseless prohibition.”
Given the congresswoman’s decidedly pro-reform record—and in light of the supermajority support for legalization among Democrats—there’s a lingering suspicion that the reason behind the amendment’s sound defeat by party insiders has more to do with Biden’s campaign than it does with the actual views of individual members.
The former vice president has maintained an opposition to adult-use legalization. Instead, he’s drawn the line at decriminalizing possession, modest federal rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization, expungements and letting states set their own marijuana policies.
That’s consistent with both the recommendations of the Biden-Sanders criminal justice task force and the language of the platform that the DNC committee ultimately approved. Had members bucked the status quo and amended the platform to support legalization, that could have created tension between the party apparatus and its presumptive nominee.
“Sadly, Lee’s platform vote suggests that politics still plays a role in drug policy, just as it did in the 70’s,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Luckily, it’s her good vote in Congress that matters most. But it begs the question, do party platforms matter? And after 50 years of the drug war, can’t we finally stop playing politics with 600,000 lives annually?”
The DNC amendment was rejected in a 106-50 vote. Former Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, former White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz, U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett (D), Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (D) were among those joining Lee in voting against it.
Among the notable “yes” votes were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, former Missouri Secretary of State and Senate candidate Jason Kander (D) and columnist and activist Jim Hightower. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten abstained.
Read the roll call for the DNC marijuana amendment vote below:
This story was updated to include comment from Lee and Blumenauer.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.