When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president on Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week, she made history as the first woman ever to lead the presidential ticket of a major political party.
But if she is elected, will she make history again by putting federal teeth behind the DNC’s official position on marijuana reform ─ or will it be just more political smoke and mirrors?
The DNC’s New Official Stance on Marijuana: Can It Still Stand under a New Administration?
The Democratic National Committee made a bold move by adding a “plank” that addresses marijuana reform to their official platform earlier this month. Part of the paragraph states:
“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
The plank goes on to outline their intention that the states be “laboratories of democracy” when it comes to marijuana, indirectly implying that it should ultimately be the states who decide about medical and recreational legalization within their borders. The DNC also claimed their support of marijuana research and legal marijuana business reform. Finally, they recognize the racial bias that respected organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have brought to the forefront:
“…we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”
Going by words alone, it would seem that a new Clinton administration would make broad marijuana reform a priority from the get-go. This reform, which could help hundreds of thousands of patients as well as thousands of legal marijuana business owners, should include clear federal policy and, even more importantly, federal funding for business development and medical cannabis research.
The jury is still out on whether either a Republican or a Democratic administration will do that. Both Clinton and Trump have stating publically that they will support reform if elected. On the other hand, things tend to go slow in Washington, especially where actual budget allocations and real policy change is concerned. And so far both candidates’ comments on the issue have been focused on states’ rights, not so much on what exactly a federal government under their watch would actually do.
In fact, it took much finagling on the part of Sanders-appointed Platform Drafting Committee members to even include Schedule 1 by name in the DNC document. Pro-reform Drafting Committee members, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and environmental activist Bill McKibben, originally wanted the plank to call for the removal of cannabis completely from the Controlled Substances Act. The original wording mentioned neither Schedule 1 nor the Controlled Substances Act by name.
“This is one of these issues where society has largely made up its mind, like gay marriage, and now it’s time for politicians and political institutions to catch up with them,” McKibben said before a vote on one of the preliminary drafts.
Now More Than Ever: More Dems are On-Record as Being in Favor of Cannabis Reform
A lot of what the just-completed Democratic Convention was about was presenting a new face to the nation as well as presenting a presidential candidate that can connect with the people beyond all the email scandals and back-forth bad-mouthing. Whether they have succeeded or not remains to be seen. When it comes to cannabis reform, however, more democrats appear to be on-board with public opinion than ever before.
There are currently 12 states which have included cannabis law reform in their own Democratic Party platforms. In addition, more and more in congress are actively working to push marijuana legislation forward. The opening night of the Democratic National Convention saw headlining speeches by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Or), Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ), Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), all active supporters of the CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States) Act, which was put forward in 2015 and has since been slowly crawling its way through Congress ever since. CARERS has 37 congressional supporters so far, both democrats and republicans. If passed, CARERS would mean sweeping policy change for medical marijuana. It would reschedule cannabis to a Schedule II drug, allow for federally-funded cannabis research and prohibit federally-insured banking institutions from penalizing legal marijuana-related businesses, amongst other things.
Even though the Marijuana Policy Project recently gave Hillary Clinton a B+ on her cannabis-reform position in general, the candidate herself has been relatively mum about CARERS, again mostly deferring to the issue of states’ rights and drug rescheduling for more federally-sanctioned cannabis research.
Opiate Drug Policy Change: A Step in the Right Direction for Cannabis Reform?
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is moving towards policy changes that a Clinton administration will more than likely continue with. Just last week, Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which specifically addresses the opioid addiction epidemic in the U.S. Although the move in itself did not have any actual money attached to it, it does have a corresponding appropriations bill, which includes a 50 percent increase in funding for next year and a 93 percent increase for the following year ($131 million to $261 million in two years). Clinton herself has spoken in actual dollars regarding her commitment to such policies. On her website earlier this year, Clinton pledged to allot $7 billion in federal funds for policies that would improve drug treatment centers, place treatment over incarceration for drug offenders and provide training for doctors in over-prescribing.
This movement is a plus for cannabis advocates, in that it is shedding light on the real drug challenge that this country faces: the growing number of individuals in the U.S. who are addicted to prescription drugs.
According to the percent of heroin addicts in the country have also used other highly-addictive prescription opioids, mostly pain medications like Percocet, Vicodin or Fentanyl. Fentanyl in particular is extremely addictive and said to be 100 times more potent than morphine. It is mostly used as an anesthetic, but is fast becoming the recreational drug of choice.
“Narcotics are a really unique commodity,” said Casey Currivan, a recovering opiate addict, for a recent interview with ABC News. “Instead of supply meeting the demand, the supply creates demand.”
The shift in mass consciousness when it comes to cannabis and the growing awareness (now backed by federal legislation) of opiate addiction could further open the door to changes in federal drug charge laws concerning marijuana that are directly keeping some Americans out of the medical marijuana industry. According to the ACLU: “marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”
Anyone who has an arrest record for marijuana possession, distribution or selling on the black market is systematically barred from participating in the industry in any way. This includes owning a medical dispensary or even working in one.
In the coming weeks, UPG will be providing in-depth analysis of the candidates’ views on marijuana-reform and policy. And as the political conventions come to a close and the nation gears up for what is sure to be a heated presidential election, the question of the hour is this: Will the new administration, whether it be run by Clinton or Trump, put as much teeth into CARERS and the subsequent changes required─ not just drug rescheduling, but also banking and federal offense laws─ to truly create an open and fair playing field when it comes to medical marijuana?
No one yet knows the answer to this question, of course. One thing is crystal clear, however: not matter which party takes over in November, the fight for legal medical marijuana access and quality research funding will be far from over.