State Democratic Parties Push Marijuana Law Reform

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The Iowa Democratic Party took many observers by surprise over the weekend by adopting a plank in its 2016 platform saying it supports “legalizing all drugs.”

The state party’s platform also supports “rescheduling/expanding access to medical marijuana” and “legalizing cannabis/hemp.” And on broader drug policy, the platform calls for “reducing/commuting sentences, pardoning nonviolent drug offenders” and opposes “drug testing SNAP applicants.”

While the Iowa Democrats’ support for legalizing all drugs appears to be unique among state Democratic organizations, its endorsement of legalizing marijuana puts it in line with a growing number of state parties that are calling for an end to prohibition in their 2016 platforms.

Marijuana.com has compiled a selection of these cannabis planks below.

(Note that a few of the linked documents are in draft form and haven’t yet been given final approval by the parties, though some of the quoted planks have been carried over from platforms already adopted in previous years. Also note that this is a sampling of platform documents posted online and isn’t a comprehensive overview of all state parties.)

California:

Support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol; prioritizing the health and safety of California’s communities over revenue or profits.

The California Democratic Party also endorsed a specific marijuana legalization initiative that is likely to appear on the state ballot this November.

Colorado:

Support the intent of the voters to “regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.”

Reform banking laws to allow “marijuana businesses” to conduct safe, legal banking.

Normalize accounting for the Colorado marijuana industry.

We support the legalization of marijuana, and its removal from the Schedule I controlled substance list.

Amend banking laws to allow cannabis-related financial transactions to take place via checks and credit cards.

Remove the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance.

Allow additional medical conditions to be considered for medical cannabis usage and protect the rights of cannabis patients.

Protect the rights of lawyers and other professionals who consult with cannabis-related businesses.

Continue to support the full legalized use of medical cannabis when prescribed for a patient by a physician.

End the “War on Drugs” by focusing on addiction treatment and decriminalization of possession of drugs without the intent to sell.

Require drug testing only upon probable cause that a law has been violated; it should never be a condition of any state or federal benefits.

Indiana:

Study the use of medical marijuana and the penalties for its possession

Maine:

Supports the legalization of marijuana for adults 21 years and older while protecting minors from its use.

Understands drug abuse and addiction as a public health crisis and treats addicts as patients.

Nevada:

We support the state of Nevada decriminalizing marijuana, regulating recreational marijuana usage similar to alcohol usage

We support the removal by Congress of marijuana as Schedule 1 drug.

We support the use of medical marijuana and holistic medicine in VA health facilities to reduce the use of opiates.

We support the diagnosis/treatment of drug and alcohol addiction as a medical issue, not a crime.

New Hampshire:

Democrats support efforts to prioritize treatment and rehabilitation, -rather than incarceration, — for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. We recognize the collateral damage and harsh consequences of a conviction for the possession of marijuana and support decriminalization for possession of a small amount.

New Mexico:

We support the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana.

We support the legal use of medical cannabis, when prescribed for a patient by a physician.

North Carolina:

We support decriminalization of marijuana as well as changes to federal prohibition and allow states to develop their own drug laws as it relates to marijuana possession and consumption, including for medicinal and recreational use.

We support keeping those with mental illness and substance use disorders out of jails and prisons by providing appropriate treatment instead of incarceration and that those who are dealing with behavioral health and substance use disorder diagnoses receive needed aid to securing housing. We urge that North Carolina continue to monitor the use and implementation of the Good Samaritan laws and support the over-the-counter access to the lifesaving drug Naloxone, which can immediately reverse the devastating effects of opiate overdoses. We urge prioritizing rehabilitation and treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent drug offenses, and work to end the era of mass incarceration.

Texas:

Our current cannabis laws give power, control, and illicit funding to violent drug cartels. These laws disproportionately affect communities of color, even though cannabis use among different ethnicities is equal, and destroy lives with a criminal record. Cannabis policy reform can improve public safety, boost our economy, and provide much-needed health care options for struggling Texans.

As Texas Democrats, we:

● urge the President, the Attorney General, Congress as well as the Texas Legislature, to support the passage of legislation to decriminalize the possession of cannabis and regulate its use, cultivation, production, and sale as is done with tobacco and alcohol;

● urge the review of all cannabis-related incarcerations, ensure a safe release of any nonviolent Texans jailed for small possession of cannabis, and expunge criminal records for any Texan charged or jailed for those laws;

● support comprehensive study and diligent research, particularly from states who legalized cannabis on health effects of cannabis usage on people;

● urge the Texas Legislature to study the laws and systems in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington as a first step in implementing a similar system in Texas;

● urge the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients; and

● urge the immediate decriminalization of possession and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The Court system must be encouraged to allow treatment as the first option for drug offenders when appropriate, rather than incarceration.

Texas must be smart in dealing with crime and punishment. The “War on Drugs” should be redirected to treatment and the reclassification of certain drug felonies.

Washington State:

• The decriminalization nationwide of marijuana sales or possession, and calling on banks authorized to handle proceeds from marijuana sales in states where it has been legalized. The ban on medical marijuana research must be repealed and such research funded by the NIH;

• Convictions for possession of marijuana to be expunged and such prisoners immediately released;

• Ending the war on drugs; drug addiction is a public health problem not cured by incarceration;

• Congress to reform policies that deny federal tuition aid to college students 84 convicted of drug possession;

West Virginia:

We support banning for-profit prisons, an end to the war on drugs and the decriminalization of cannabis.

Drug Policy

1. We support the immediate end to the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders.

2. We support the full funding of recovery and treatment programs for all residents battling addiction including those incarcerated.

3. We support an overall strategy of harm reduction and a study of potential benefits of decriminalizing drug use in general and a critical examination of the effects of drug prohibition on health, secondary crime and social debilitation among addicts.

4. We acknowledge the “War on Drugs” has not been effective and has claimed the lives of millions.

Wisconsin:

The war on drugs is a colossal failure. We must discourage dangerous drug use without criminalizing the user and provide rehabilitative treatment to addicted persons. We encourage non‐penal sanctions for initial minor drug violations. Marijuana should be legal and regulated like tobacco and alcohol.

State Republican Parties

While no state Republican Party platform that Marijuana.com could find was in support of legalizing marijuana, the Texas Republican Party adopted a plank last month endorsing medical cannabis, and this month Georgia Republicans approved language calling on their state to expand its existing limited medical marijuana law.

National Implications

The assortment of state Democratic Party organizations calling for marijuana law reform raises questions about when the national party will officially get on board with supporting legalization. Polls show that a significant majority of Democratic voters support ending prohibition, and a growing number of the party’s elected officials in Congress and state legislatures are actively working to enact cannabis legislation.

The Democratic National Committee’s Platform Drafting Committee is currently conducting a series of regional forums around the country to take testimony from advocates about what planks it should adopt this year. The 15-member committee was appointed by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who does not support marijuana legalization, along with the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Clinton has called for modest cannabis law reforms, including moving the drug to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act and allowing states to set their own marijuana laws without federal interference. She says she is undecided on whether legalization is a good policy and wants to gather more evidence about how it is being implemented in states that have ended prohibition.

Sanders personally supports legalization and has introduced legislation to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act entirely.

The national party’s 2012 platform, silent on marijuana legalization, did cheer Congress’s passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, which it says played a role in “reducing racial disparities in sentencing for drug crimes.”

But the platform also seemed to express support for the current war on drugs approach of interdicting smuggling shipments and arresting traffickers.

“We must help state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are blights on our communities,” the document said. 

“We will also work to disrupt organized crime networks seeking to use the Caribbean to smuggle drugs into our country,” it pledged. “We will improve coordination and share more information so that those who traffic in drugs and in human beings have fewer places to hide. And we will continue to put unprecedented pressure on cartel finances, including in the United States.”

In 2008, the party’s national platform similarly gave lip service to continued prohibition tactics.

“We must work with close partners like Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia on issues like ending the drug trade, fighting poverty and inequality, and immigration,” it said.

It is unknown if the current platform committee members have discussed adopting marijuana or drug policy reform planks in the 2016 platform.

Photo Courtesy of Doug Shutter.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

4 Comments

  1. The DNC needs to catch up with the states. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has to go, this woman is a republican in disguise.

  2. Tom, great reporting. Thank you for this. You missed one important state though. Last September through the great efforts of Derek Rosenzweig and KCC we got the Pa. state Democratic Party to adopt the following resolution unanimously. It reads:

    Resolution – Platform Policy on the Legalization of Marijuana/Cannabis

    WHEREAS, The prohibition of cannabis was based on racism and bigotry, but not science or sound reasoning [Testimony of Harry J. Anslinger – Marihuana Tax Act of 1937; Findings of LaGuardia Committee & Shafer Commission]

    WHEREAS, The government, at all levels, regulates the legal sale of substances known through scientific rigor to be harmful or deadly to humans, by means other than the Controlled Substances Act

    WHEREAS, Cannabis is one of the most well-studied plants in human history [Google Scholar search for `”cannabis sativa” OR marijuana` produces 556,000 results]

    WHEREAS, As of September, 2017, the People and legislatures of 28 states, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have already legalized cannabis for medical purposes; 8 states (plus Washington D.C.) have ended prohibition on cannabis and have legalized, regulated markets for adult recreational use

    WHEREAS, Cannabis is regularly used safely and responsibly without medical supervision by almost two million Pennsylvanians [SAMHSA 2012: 20.2% respondents aged 15 and older use cannabis; PA 2010 Census 9,861,456 aged 15 or older]

    WHEREAS, Cannabis does not fit any of the criteria to be placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act [Act of Apr. 14, 1972 P.L. 233, No. 64; Section 4-1]

    WHEREAS, Approximately 25,000 People are arrested per year for possession, sale, or cultivation of cannabis on a State and local level in Pennsylvania

    WHEREAS, The Commonwealth spends unknown millions of dollars per year enforcing prohibition policies

    WHEREAS, The current Auditor General of Pennsylvania has publicly called for the immediate legalization and regulation of cannabis specifically for judicial, criminal justice, and economic benefits

    WHEREAS, The black market resulting from the prohibition of cannabis is opaque to public entities, is
    totally unregulated, and is thus not a good outcome of policy

    WHEREAS, The prohibition of cannabis has had no meaningful positive effect, as it is widely available in
    the Commonwealth. In over 80 years, the prohibition of cannabis has not achieved its stated goals

    WHEREAS, Pennsylvanians have been arrested, imprisoned, fined, or otherwise punished and stigmatized
    resulting in lost productivity and quality of life for their possession or use of cannabis

    WHEREAS, Approximately 56% – 61% of Pennsylvanians support the full legalization of cannabis [May
    2017 Franklin & Marshall Poll; August 2017 Quinnipiac University Poll]

    WHEREAS, The DNC included support for legalization in the party platform in 2016

    NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED , to adopt an official platform position which recognizes the above facts about cannabis. The Party resolves that cannabis is safe enough, and ubiquitous enough in society, that it does not need to be restricted or prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act.

    NOW THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, to support Democratic candidates and policies which promote the full repeal of cannabis prohibition by its removal from the Controlled Substances Act, and to support the creation of new laws which regulate it in a manner similar to other culturally accepted commodities.

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