Facing Tough Primary, Former DNC Chair Endorses Marijuana Decriminalization | Marijuana

Facing Tough Primary, Former DNC Chair Endorses Marijuana Decriminalization


The recently deposed chair of Democratic National Committee is continuing to evolve her position on marijuana policy.

“When we take a look at how we deal with marijuana policy…I also support decriminalization,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a debate on Sunday with Tim Canova, her primary challenger for the Democratic nomination to represent Florida’s 23rd Congressional district. “I don’t think that we should be locking up people for small amounts of marijuana.”

Canova supports legalizing marijuana outright, and has called for broader drug policy reforms.

In the past, Wasserman Schultz hasn’t been supportive of efforts to move away from cannabis prohibition, but has started shifting her position in recent months amidst the unexpectedly strong primary fight.

In 2014, she opposed a constitutional amendment that appeared on Florida’s ballot which would have legalized medical marijuana statewide.

“I have concerns that it is written too broadly and stops short of ensuring strong regulatory oversight from state officials,” Wasserman Schultz said at the time. “Other states have shown that lax oversight and ease of access to prescriptions can lead to abuse, fraud and accidents. Also, given Florida’s recent history in combating the epidemic of ‘pill mills’ and dubious distinction as having among the highest incidents of fraud, I do not believe we should make it easier for those seeking to abuse the drug to have easy access to it.”

The measure ended up getting 58 percent of the vote, two percentage points shy of the threshold it needed to be enacted. Advocates have succeeded in placing another amendment on this year’s ballot.

Wasserman Schultz stepped down as chair of the Democratic National Committee last month after leaked emails appeared to show the supposedly neutral party organization favoring Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign over that of primary rival Bernie Sanders.

In the debate with Canova, who has Sanders’s endorsement, the congresswoman declined the opportunity to stake out clear endorsement of or opposition to this year’s Florida cannabis measure, but did voice support for the general concept of medical marijuana.

“I’m glad to see that the supporters and the sponsors of that amendment have tightened it up a little bit to address some of the concerns about prior loopholes. We want to make sure that people truly need it have the ability to get access,” she said. “I support the use of evidence-based medical marijuana.”

When the U.S. House of Representatives considered an amendment in May to increase military veterans’ access to medical marijuana, the Florida congresswoman voted aye, along with all but five other Democrats.

Previously, Wasserman Schultz voted against the same amendment in 2014, taking a position opposite 173 other Democrats who backed the measure. (She was not present during a vote on the amendment last year.)

Explaining the congresswoman’s 2014 vote against the measure, spokesman Sean Barlett told VICE at the time that she “felt that it was premature to vote for such an amendment given that [the Department of Health and Human Services] has approved a new study to look at marijuana’s potential effects on PTSD. While there is evidence that medical marijuana is effective in providing relief in some medical conditions, the congresswoman looks forward to the results of that study before making a policy determination.”

But advocates point out that no new HHS-approved studies on marijuana and PTSD have since been completed.

After the House veterans vote, Canova told Marijuana.com in a statement that the shift is due to Wasserman Schultz “feeling the heat on this issue from our campaign.”

In addition to previously opposing the veterans measure, the congresswoman has consistently voted against other marijuana reform proposals, including efforts to stop the Department of Justice from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. This year’s version of the Justice Department spending bill has not yet been voted on, but could reach the House floor next month.

Wasserman Schultz’s endorsement of decriminalization during the primary debate represents new ground for her.

In a New York Times Magazine interview earlier this year, Wasserman Schultz implied that marijuana is a gateway drug. “I don’t oppose the use of medical marijuana. I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs,” she said. “We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.”

The Democratic Party’s 2016 national platform endorses a “pathway” toward legalization and calls for cannabis to be reclassified under federal law. A number of state Democratic Party organizations have also included planks supporting marijuana law reform in their platforms this year.

The primary election between Wasserman Schultz and Canova will be held on August 30.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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.)


  1. Lawrence Goodwin on

    Uh, if I’m not mistaken, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was ousted as DNC chair very early in the convention last month–due mostly to the leak of emails revealing how she and others were determined to brush aside Vermont Sen Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Wasserman-Schultz was replaced by Interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile.

  2. I’m glad Canova is running against her, DWS is a money grubbing political whore, who would do anything to stay in office, including sell her hollow defunct soul, but guess what, it’s too late for her, she really screwed up, and should continue leaving, she’s not a desirable person and will need to find a job in the private sector.

  3. Glenda Naleway on

    Canova should win this. Everyone that watches TV should know how corrupt she is. She has no remorse, just pissed she got booted from her gig. Then Clinton rewards her of course. I believe Hillary was behind it all anyway and Debbie was stupid enough to go along. MAYBE, she didn’t have a choice. That’s why Hillary is taking care of her. She wants to keep her close. Make sure she doesn’t talk. If I was Debbie and this is true, I’d out her on National TV and make sure she has a place to hid until the dust settles!!!

    • Really?? You’d out and cause problems for Clinton when Trump is the other option?? What an ass as Trumpvwill repeal all laws and send the DEA out to arrest and seize everything so the government has lots of extra money that’s not theirs!!
      Use your brain before such asinine comments

  4. Debbie is a first class prohibitionist. She and Sen. Barbara Feinstein of Calif. are two leading Democrats who have always hated cannabis. She does not get a pass on this.
    Wasserman-Shultz is a hack, and frankly Florida deserves better. Go Canova!

    • Lawrence Goodwin on

      I agree on your points, but you erred in a name. That would be Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. You can also add to such a list New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another influential Democrat who hates cannabis plants as much as he hates his own constituents who adore them. Cuomo arrogantly believes he has the right to single-handedly prevent New Yorkers from gaining legal access to seedless, female cannabis flowers. He never did and never will.

  5. Ruben Rodriguez on

    What does a Heroin epidemic have to do with legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical use?
    Recent studies show that the use of prescribed medications such as opiods has decreased by 40%!
    Maybe Debbie should check on the the studies at Princeton and Harvard that show Marijuana can stop cancer cells and maybe even destroy them. For a supposed educated (women) she wears her ignorance on her sleeve,
    with pride. I hope she loses her position and she can go into private practice.
    One final suggestion: Do some research on what you are against before you open your big stupid month.
    And do not compare Marijuana to Heroin,it just highlights your ignorance.Be nice to people and resign,
    you have no future in politics!

  6. Wasserman Schultz has been against cannibus the entire time she has been in office. When we voted for a medical program, she campaigned against it. Now we’re voting again and all of her prior statements ahave been against the amendment. Now that she faces a serious primary challenge, her position changes. Perhaps we should just call her Dancing Debbie. The only person running who is more corrupt is her mentor Hillary.

    • Hilary is still the best choice. And I am sure trump the stump has his share of baggage that has not been cleaned up yet.Vote for trump and we will be saluting ( Seig Heil). Nothing but right wing rednecks and KKK members.Get your facts straight pardner!!

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