Democratic Senator Pulled Out As Marijuana Bill Cosponsor, Sources Say
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was expected to be an original cosponsor of newly filed bipartisan legislation to shield legal marijuana states from federal intervention. But when it was unveiled on Thursday, the senator’s name was nowhere to be found—even though she signed on to a nearly identical bill last year.
Two lobbyists who work on cannabis issues on Capitol Hill told Marijuana Moment that Feinstein’s staff added her name to the bill, but that in the days leading up to its introduction the senator removed herself at the last minute—for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
The lobbyists did not wish to be named in this story so that they could talk freely about the development, and Feinstein’s office did not respond to several requests for comment on the reasoning behind her decision or whether the senator plans to cosponsor the legislation at a later date.
When Feinstein was announced as a cosponsor of a previous version of the legislation last year, it was a big deal. She has a track record of opposing drug policy reform—including California’s 2016 cannabis legalization measure as well as congressional measures to shield state cannabis laws from federal interference—but she’d suddenly reversed that position. And as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, her newfound support could have been critical in advancing the legislation.
Advocates are both disappointed and suspicious, questioning whether politics, rather than an earnest conviction about the need to change the country’s drug laws, motivated her past cosponsorship of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.
At the time that her cosponsorship of the earlier bill was announced, the senator was facing a reelection challenge from a progressive contender, California State Sen. Kevin de Leon (D).
“By refusing to get on this year’s version of the STATES Act, it shows how obvious Senator Feinstein’s flirtation with putting an end to federal marijuana was just an effort protect her seat,” Michael Liszewski, principal of The Enact Group, a lobbying and consulting firm that focuses on cannabis issues, argued. “It’s remarkable that Feinstein will back marijuana reform to save her job but then refuse to do when it comes to protecting her constituents from federal prosecution.”
Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, put it this way: “It’s remarkable when you expect nothing and are still disappointed.”
Feinstein’s reversal on the STATES Act stands in contrast to that of Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who sent a letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee endorsing the legislation this week. Collins has also opposed various marijuana reform measures during his tenure in Congress but is now calling on the House Democratic majority to advance the new cannabis bill.
Aside from Feinstein, all of the other cosponsors of the last version of the STATES Act who are still in the Senate remained on board for the new version—with the exception of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is sponsoring separate, more far-reaching legislation called the Marijuana Justice Act, which contains provisions addressing the harms of past cannabis enforcement. (Feinstein has not signed onto Booker’s bill or any other cannabis legislation filed in the 116th Congress.)
Two additional senators—Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND)—joined as new original cosponsors of this year’s STATES Act.
“It’s disappointing to see Senator Feinstein flip flop on this issue,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “We thought she had turned the corner, but it appears not to be the case.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), chief sponsors of the Senate’s STATES Act, for details about Feinstein declining to be a cosponsor this time around. Representatives were not immediately available to comment.
While the senator hasn’t said she opposes the STATES Act and could still add her name to the list of cosponsors at a later time, being an original cosponsor would have signaled that Feinstein was making cannabis reform a priority for the 116th Congress. And her position as the ranking member on a committee that will play a central role in the legislation’s fate would have made that all the more important.
“While it’s disappointing that Sen. Feinstein is not an original cosponsor of the STATES Act in the 116th Congress, it is our understanding that is not a signal that she opposes the legislation. Just that it’s not a priority,” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said. “We are excited about the additions of Sen. Wyden and Sen. Cramer, and expect Sen. Feinstein to ultimately protect the burgeoning legal cannabis industry in California by voting in favor of the STATES Act.”
Even if Feinstein does ultimately lend her support, getting the bill passed in the Senate will be a challenge. The chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this week that he’s “not very excited about” about the legislation.
“It’s time Senator Feinstein accepts the inevitability of cannabis legalization and cosponsors the STATES Act,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “This balanced approach and common sense solution helps address the federal/state conflict on cannabis laws, while providing protection for a multi-billion dollar industry.”
“She was elected to defend her state,” Correia said. “This bill does that.”
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Photo courtesy of Neon Tommy.