Marijuana Legalization: Don’t Ignore the Dems Huge Policy Shift

Buttons supporting marijuana legalization are seen during the Denver 420 Rally | Jason Connolly/AFP/Getty Images

Buttons supporting marijuana legalization are seen during the Denver 420 Rally | Jason Connolly/AFP/Getty Images

The rumors surrounding a course-change in marijuana policy are out there, and this time, it looks like it’s more than just lip service. Recently, the idea of reclassifying cannabis — a small but integral step toward overall marijuana legalization — was floated, and the Supreme Court swatted down challenges to Colorado’s legalization law from neighboring states. These are good signs for marijuana legalization advocates, but that’s all they are: signs.

We’ve still yet to see any dramatic changes or policy changes from our political leaders when it comes to marijuana legalization. Until now.

A recent report from The Washington Post says that the Democratic Party, in an unprecedented move, is adopting a “pathway to legalization.” The change is reportedly a result of pushes from Senator Bernie Sanders, who has managed to pull the Democratic Party as a whole, and presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, to the left on many other issues as well.

The Washington Post report says that the change was contentious, and there was a back and forth between Democrats who wanted to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, and those who wanted to push further. In the end, the party settled on the following amendment: “Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

A “pathway” to marijuana legalization

Vice President Joe Biden, former anti-marijuana crusader, enjoys an ice cream cone

Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama | SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

This “pathway” to legalization is still undefined, so we don’t really know what it will mean in the end. But it’s still a huge step for a major American political party to take.

So — is this merely talk, or lip service to the swaths of disgruntled voters out there, in an effort to garner more support? Perhaps. But it’s an important step and one that is finally putting aside the falsities surrounding marijuana that have dominated the conversation for generations. We’re seeing policy makers take a look at what’s happening in Colorado and Washington, and conclude that allowing marijuana to be cultivated, sold, or purchased through legal means is a good thing — not the “sky is falling” scenario many warned about.

It’s not often that you see a party’s platform pull an about-face on a big and divisive issue like drug reform, but the Democrats are at least willing to float the idea.

Remember, there was a time during which Joe Biden — the sitting Vice President, and one of the Democratic Party’s leaders — was a virulent anti-drug crusader. He was one of policy makers who escalated the War on Drugs, and had a hand in creating some harsh laws that helped put thousands upon thousands of people behind bars.

His party’s swivel on marijuana, or their opening to it, is momentous all things considered.

What’s next for cannabis activists?

A banner picturing a cannabis leaf and reading "legalize it" during the 15th World March for cannabis to call for the legalization of marijuana

A banner picturing a cannabis leaf and reading “legalize it” during the 15th World March for cannabis to call for the legalization of marijuana | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

As the amendment and adoption of a “pathway” to legalization is still undefined and ambiguous, many legalization activists and members of the Democratic Party are probably wondering where things are going to go from here. If you were hoping for immediate action, you’re probably going to have to wait a while.

With the election coming in November, almost all of the Democratic Party’s attention will be focused on holding onto the White House, and flipping the Senate. If things do go the Dems way, there will be a much better chance of legalization actually happening in the near future. For context, the GOP’s platform, and by and large most of the Republican Party, is still against cannabis legalization.

In all likelihood, the next big steps toward legalization we’re bound to see are more states passing voter-backed initiatives to legalize. The big one, as we’ve noted, will be California — which will mean that the entire length of the Pacific coast (Hawaii being the only exception) will have “gone green.” There are several other states that will be in play as well, and some aren’t in regions that are traditionally supportive of the idea of legalization.

But until the dust settles and a new administration takes office in January 2017, we won’t know what will happen for sure. The Democratic Party’s small but important change to its platform may seem insignificant right now, but in the grand scheme of things, and considering the Party’s history, it’s a giant move that shouldn’t be discounted.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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