There were two quotes that stood out for me during Marianne Williamson's Candidate Summit II last night. First came Florida candidate for Rubio's Senate seat, Alan Grayson: "We want to elect people who don't just want to BE something; we want to elect people who want to DO something." A while later California congressional candidate Bryan Osorio followed up along similar lines: "There's a difference between supporting something and championing something. Too many leaders are more interested in keeping power than doing something with it."
Los Republicanos are mostly against making anything happen-- that's the nature of conservatism, conserving the status quo-- but the party does have a legislative agenda for 2021-'22: dismantling as much of democracy as they can. Dana Milbank wrote yesterday that the Republicans have worked all year to make sure Americans don not have an absolute right to vote or an absolute right to teach in a school, only that we have an absolute right to not be vaccinated and to infect as many people as we choose to. (He forgot guns.) "With the blessing of the Roberts court," wrote Milbank, "legislatures in Republican-run states are rushing to impose new voting restrictions, particularly on non-White voters. A tally by the Brennan Center finds that, as of June 21, 17 states had enacted 28 new laws restricting the ability to vote since the start of this year... The red states are protecting the liberties of their political supporters-- and taking liberties with everybody else’s... Republican state legislators would 'give unvaccinated people the same protections as those surrounding race, gender and religion.' In Montana, for example, a law requires that restaurants and other public accommodations must admit the unvaccinated. One law professor called the Montana law a 'civil rights statute' akin to banning discrimination against the Irish. Nonsense. Civil rights, as we knew them, prohibited discrimination 'on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.' Now, Republicans are trashing those rights in favor of a new protected class-- on the basis of political views."
Also writing for the Washington Post, our old friends, Texans Julie Oliver and Mike Siegal, noted today that "Biden, in defeating Donald Trump, won more votes than any presidential candidate in U.S. history. But as we saw with several ballot initiatives from this past election cycle, a handful of issues outperformed Biden in red and blue states-- and may offer Democrats both a popular message and a slate of wedge issues to take to voters. We’ve dubbed these 'workers, wages and weed.' Legislation supporting workers, improving wages and legalizing marijuana are progressive, Democratic policies. But they’re also extremely popular among Republicans and moderates."
This morning Senate Dems unveiled a bill-- the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act-- that would go a long way towards making marijuana legal. It would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, expunge federal convictions for nonviolent marijuana crimes, allow those imprisoned for marijuana to petition their sentencing, take marijuana off the federal list of controlled substances and create a tax system for the substance. McConnell will filibuster it and prevent it from being debated or voted on.
A similar bill passed the House in December of 2020 (228-164), with 5 Republicans voting in favor and 6 conservative Democraps crossing the aisle and voting with 158 Republicans against it-- Dan Lipinksi (Blue Dog-IL), Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX), Conor Lamb (PA), Colin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN), Chris Pappas (New Dem-NH) and Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL).
This morning, Nick Fandos reported that "The proposal would also try to make recompense to communities of color and the poor for damage from years of restrictive federal drug policy. It calls for immediately expunging nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records and would earmark new tax revenue for restorative justice programs intended to lift up communities affected by 'the failed federal prohibition of cannabis.' The bill aims to 'finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs,' said Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, who wrote the bill with Mr. Schumer and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the chairman of the Finance Committee."
The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans are opposed, and it is unlikely to become law in the near future. President Biden has not endorsed it, and some moderate Democrats are likely to balk at the implications of decriminalizing a drug that has been policed and stigmatized for so long.
...Schumer has also made no secret that he believes Democrats stand to benefit politically from embracing the legalization push, particularly with young voters.
“Hopefully, the next time this unofficial holiday of 4/20 rolls around, our country will have made progress in addressing the massive overcriminalization of marijuana in a meaningful and comprehensive way,” he said in April.
...Schumer would need to assemble 60 votes, meaning he would need the support of at least 10 Republicans. Though libertarian-leaning Republicans have generally supported ending the prohibition of marijuana, party leaders are likely to oppose the Democrats’ plan, particularly with its emphasis on restorative justice and government intervention in the cannabis industry.
But opposition is not limited to Republicans. Mr. Schumer would have to persuade moderate Democrats who are uncomfortable with the implications of decriminalization to support it.
Biden supports decriminalizing marijuana and pulling back the war on drugs, but his views are generally more conservative than many Democrats’ and he has not endorsed Schumer’s proposal. His White House made headlines this spring for pushing out five staff members over their use of marijuana.
Some of the worst of the Senate Democrats, like Jeanne Shaheen (NH), have already come out against legalization and even Republicans from states where it is already legal, like Steve Daines (MT) and Mike Rounds (ND) are opposed.
This morning, Alan Grayson, a proponent of legalization noted that "It’s obvious to anyone who has been paying attention that people can use marijuana without endangering themselves or other people, so prohibition simply has no rational basis anymore. What kind of right-wing political craziness encourages people to go maskless and infect each other, but prohibits them from smoking pot? In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Marco Rubio then tuned out everything that happened in the world after that point. It wasn’t until 1996 that any state made medical marijuana legal. Therefore, Rubio is completely oblivious on the whole subject of legalizing pot. That being said, I’m sure that Rubio still loves QVC, tank-tops, Rubik’s Cube and Flashdance."
Washington Democrat Jason Call, a congressional candidate, articulated a perspective I hear from more and more progressives running for Congres-- virtually from all of them. "Washington State," he reminded me, "was the first state to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use. I know, I was part of the volunteer team that spent a summer gathering signatures to get it on the state ballot in 2012. I've been a recreational and medical user since I was in high school, just like many of you. Now 18 states have legalized and another 13 have decriminalized its use. As activists have been saying for decades, marijuana is mostly harmless, in many ways beneficial, certainly no worse than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco (both of which provide virtually zero physical or mental/emotional benefit). But it has long faced opposition from puritanical prohibitionist types, has been lobbied against by big pharma and alcohol/tobacco interests as a a market competitor, and more insidiously has been the primary focus of a Drug War that has since its official inception under Reagan/Bush been used to target black/brown and working class communities. The Drug War has done nothing more than bolster criminal cartels in various countries and provide cover for the theft of personal property under civil asset forfeiture laws. Drug laws are applied mercilessly against the poor, while the rich (I'm looking at you, Hunter Biden) can buy their way out of any serious penalty. There are few things in this country that have done more damage to the black community in the modern age." Jason has a more sweeping vision of going forward than Schumer does, who still slips up from time to time and undermines his own arguments.
While I'm glad Chuck Schumer has brought legalization to the Senate, we'll once again see that the Republican Senate is useless (even while former House Speaker John Boehner is now invested in legal marijuana enterprises), the Democratic Senate still has plenty of holdouts, and now we hear that President Biden is 'unmoved' by Schumer's efforts (still looking at you, Hunter Biden).
Even though Washington State was the first to legalize, incumbent corporate Democrat Rick Larsen (WA-02) has still not voiced actual support of changing federal law-- other than to make it easier for banks to participate in the existing lucrative market. In fact, he has voted against cutting the DEA budget, voted specifically to increase federal funding to police to continue the drug war, has voted against allowing VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, has voted against allowing Health and Human Services to promote legalization of marijuana, and FOUR TIMES has voted to continue to allow the DOJ to continue assaulting citizens in states where marijuana has been legalized (that of course includes his home state of Washington).
It's time to end this racist and classist insanity of marijuana prohibition. When I am elected to replace Larsen, I intend to cosign Rep. Cori Bush's Drug Policy Reform Act. We must furthermore release all nonviolent drug 'offenders' whose lives have been ruined, whose families have been ruined, and we must ensure that addiction is treated as a medical issue and not a criminal issue.
Shervin Aazami is the San Fernando Valley progressive taking on status quo Democrat Brad Sherman. When we talked about Schumer's new bill he said he was "cautiously optimistic," acknowledging that "there are a lot of good policies included that progressives, public health activists, and cannabis industry leaders have been demanding"-- including "expunging all federal non-violent cannabis convictions and arrests; grant programs for frontline Black and brown communities that have long been oppressed by the War on Drugs; full banking access for cannabis companies in states where cannabis is legal; and barring federal discrimination against cannabis users seeking public benefits like housing and food assistance." But... Aazami feels the bill doesn't go nearly far enough in correcting the institutional injustices of the War on Drugs.
We have to remember that even in states where cannabis is legal, Black and brown people and people experiencing homelessness continue to be arrested and incarcerated for possession at disproportionately higher rates. Moreover, the bill lacks necessary investments in non-coercive mental health and substance use treatment services and workforce development, which are critical for shifting away from militarized policing and towards a public health model for responding to drug use and possession. I am also very concerned about the inclusion of new federal laws and fines for cannabis diversion. It's an oxymoron to respond to the War on Drugs with more criminalization.
So while I am happy with many provisions in the draft bill, there are many changes I'd like to see before signaling support. Undoing the institutional injustices of the War on Drugs requires significantly more than this bill currently offers.
But let's be clear about one thing-- any action on cannabis reform, ending the War on Drugs, voting rights, and so forth will remain perpetually in draft reform in the absence of ending the filibuster. If Democrats want to demonstrate to the American people that they have our backs then we need direct legislative action, not virtue signaling on progresive priorities with draft bills in order to score political points.