Features & Columns

Democrats Do Right by Cannabis

Meeting in Orlando on Saturday the party's platform-drafting committee dropped
a moderate marijuana plank it had adopted days earlier.
NEW PATH: Democrats created a 'pathway' to legalization by approving language to reschedule marijuana.

Meeting in Orlando on Saturday, ahead of the Democratic National Convention later this month, the party's platform-drafting committee dropped a moderate marijuana plank it had adopted days earlier.

In its place the committee drafted language calling for rescheduling pot—currently Schedule 1—and creating "a reasoned pathway to future legalization."

Bernie Sanders supporters had been pushing for firm legalization language, but were turned back last week and didn't have any new language going into the platform committee meeting.

But on Saturday afternoon, the committee addressed an amendment that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, as Sanders supporters had earlier sought, with Sanders delegate David King (D-Tennessee) arguing that pot was put in the same schedule as heroin during a political "craze" to go after "hippies and blacks."

That amendment was on the verge of being defeated, with some committee members worrying that it went "too far" and that it would somehow undermine state-level legalization efforts, but the committee proposed merely rescheduling—not descheduling—marijuana and added the undefined "pathway" language.

The amendment was then adopted in an 81-80 vote, leading to a period of contention and confusion as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, the committee co-chair, entered a complaint that at least one member may not have been able to vote. That led to arguments between committee members and non-voting observers, most of whom were Sanders supporters. The Washington Post reported that one Hillary Clinton delegate complained loudly that Sanders delegates "wanted 100 percent of everything."

But the new language prevailed when former U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, a Clinton delegate from Arkansas, announced that even though opponents of the language were unhappy that the earlier compromise language had been replaced, they weren't going to fight it.

"We withdraw the objection," Pryor said.

Sanders supporters didn't get the descheduling language they wanted, but they did get a commitment to rescheduling, which could be a path toward allowing medical studies of cannabis' benefits. The matter will be taken up at the national convention. Getting the word "legalization" in there, even if the phrase "a reasoned pathway for future legalization" is a bit mealy-mouthed, is a small victory, but the Democratic Party now has marijuana legalization as part of its platform. —Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the 'Drug War Chronicle.'