A Pathway Towards Marijuana Legalization: The Significance of the Democratic Platform

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel August 2, 2016

    Hillary_Clinton_official_Secretary_of_State_portrait_cropAmong all the speeches and balloons and revelry of the recently completed Democratic National Convention — a convention that has already made history by nominating a woman for president – was a far less obvious, but important change in the Democratic Party platform. For the first time since marijuana was made illegal on the federal level in 1937, a major party platform has embraced a strategy they describe as a “reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

    That’s right. While many mainstream elected officials remain skittish of endorsing or embracing potentially controversial social issues, the 2016 Democratic Party finally could no longer ignore the changing attitudes towards marijuana legalization reflected in the national polls, and evidenced by the growing number of states that have already moved in this direction.

    The precise text of the history-making marijuana amendment was as follows:

    “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”

    In other words, the Democrats endorsed the strategy legalizers have been following since 2012, when we first legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington, despite the continuation of federal prohibition.

    Now let’s be honest. We have all seen over the years that the national parties tend to adopt a platform favored by their candidate, which is then almost immediately ignored once the candidate is elected. The platform is a campaign tool, and it is malleable, so as not to box anyone into a position he/she is uncomfortable with.

    Nonetheless, seeing the words “a reasoned pathway for future legalization” in the Democratic platform is truly empowering for those who have worked so long to try to get our state and national elected officials to embrace an end to marijuana prohibition. It provides political cover to any and all elected officials who have known all along that prohibition causes more harm than the marijuana it is intended to protect us from, but who have feared an honest position might endanger their political careers.

    The Bernie Sanders Factor

    We all recognize that Sen. Bernie Sanders had the strongest pro-legalization position; and that his publicizing that position during the hard-fought campaign, and fighting for those provisions during the platform debates, caused Sec. Hillary Clinton and her supporters to more to the left, first endorsing the medical use of marijuana, and most importantly, agreeing with Sanders that the states should be allowed to continue to experiment with full legalization, without interference from the federal government. That is a significant improvement over her earlier cautious statements calling for more research, and should assure us at least four more years to demonstrate to the public that legalization is an effective program with few if any unintended consequences. Thanks, Bernie, we are in your debt.

    Incremental Change

    With social issues, occasionally progress comes in bold steps, especially if the courts get involved and determine that an existing policy is unconstitutional (e.g., Roe v Wade on abortion rights or Obergefell v. Hodges on gay marriages). Of course, each of these victories was preceded by decades of litigation, so they too were not exactly overnight successes. Change takes time in this country, and generally occurs in incremental steps, rather than by big steps.

    But the courts have consistently refused to hold marijuana prohibition is unconstitutional (with the exception of a state decision out of Alaska back in 1975 (Ravin v  State ) holding the marijuana laws were unconstitutional as applied to personal use amounts in the home). So we don’t have the luxury of designing a strategy to win this fight with one big, successful court decision. We will have to win legalization through a combination of voter initiatives in the states that offer that option, and passing legislation in the other states, a challenging task that almost assures those states will be among the last to change.

    But prohibition has been in effect for 80 years, resulting in the arrest of more than 30 million Americans on marijuana charges, many serving time in prison, alienating generations of young people and severely limiting their ability to get an education and advance professionally in their chosen careers. If necessary, we can certainly spend a few more decades (and I believe it will require a decade or more to finally treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly, including ending job discrimination, unfair child care policies, and unfair DUID provisions) to repair the damage caused by prohibition.

    For the first time in my lifetime, a major political party has suggested they too recognize the need to move towards legalization, and away from prohibition. It was certainly not the headline of a convention that nominated the first female candidate for president, but it surely was a wonderfully hopeful sign of things to come.

    By the next quadrennial conventions, even the Republicans may have found the courage to state the obvious.

    86 responses to “A Pathway Towards Marijuana Legalization: The Significance of the Democratic Platform”

    1. Michael says:

      Marijuana legalization is neither “left” nor “right,” and it is a tactical error to identify it as either one. All that does is to provoke partisanship in opposition. Voices have been raised in favor of reason and common sense in this arena on both sides of the “left-right” aisle.

      • JamesRT says:

        I’m frequently telling people, especially those that are more right leaning, that cannabis re-legalization is a bipartisan issue. Bipartisan, for and against. It usually comes as a surprise to them.
        What is most exciting to me is that it is more apparent now that it will be federally legal soon. I suspect 5-10 years. Maybe even sooner.Especially if California does legalize adult-use this year.
        Unfortunately, I live in Minnesota, and law enforcement has a LOT of say about it. So, even after federal RE-legalization, it will be a long time before MN allows adult-use. At least they won’t use the excuse, “But, it’s federally illegal!”. Just stupid.

    2. Denny Strausser Jr says:

      I hope.
      I hope.
      They should realize the *War On Drugs* is a failure, as it isn’t stopping anyone from using.
      And the war on Pot, is just dumb.

      So I hope she wins. And I hope she follows through.

    3. Dennis Pielack says:

      “A reasoned pathway to future legalization” Sounds Good, sounds very good if any can believe Hillary Clinton. But, even if, reasoned means how can she make the profit, future means any time it becomes more profitable than Obama’s prison, forfeiture bonanza, or why hasn’t it happened already?
      Trump has stated he is for State’s Rights- let them decide their own marijuana policies, but also strongly supports medical marijuana.
      I’v been using growing marijuana over 50 years, been to jail may times for it, forfeitures, fines, community service, the whole wrath of the law. I believe Trump will respect people’s need for marijuana, and will facilitate the safe reasonable use of it. I will smoke one and vote for Trump.

      • Go Hillary / Tokers says:

        Well, you thought wrong. Voting Trump is like committing espionage. Dumbasses like you are what’s wrong with our country.

        • Eric Blubaugh says:

          If you believe anything Hillary says then you are in fact the dumbass. She’ll do and say anything to get elected, because she believes its her turn to be president. The GOP has always been for states rights to decide. The democrats have had 8 years to do something, but when asked about legalization, Obama dismissed it as simply a joke. If you believe anything Hillary says look at her answer to whether she lied or not, or the fact that FBI director Comey said she was “Grossly Negligent” in her handling of classified documents, but she said she did nothing wrong. Gen. Patraeus did essentially the same thing but WAS brought up on charges. I’d rather wait for legalization under Trump, and have the US better off, then have Clinton screw up America time after time for 4 years. They say that Obama hasn’t tried to undermine the legalization thats has happened, but look at the raids on dispensaries in CA, the fact that the DEA (which is a branch of the presidency) hasn’t rescheduled cannibis, or the fact he has done nothing to aid decriminalizion/ legalization/medical efforts and you can easily see the true colors of the Democrats(I wouldnt say they’re the colors of FREEDOM).

      • Justin Donahue says:

        Trump would have Chris Christie making policy, and he has no interest in legalization. Gary Johnson is a win win

      • Anonymous says:

        When you finish off the Kool Aid try the bong water

    4. James says:

      Funny how you didn’t talk bad about the democrates but did with the Republicans a few months ago. Hope future articles are this way for now on but I would suggest you change the pic on this from Hillary, she’s not a good example for Democrats after all that has happened in the last several weeks. But something tells me you support her.

      • Rob says:

        Well like every political issue, norml activists have to pull favors from politicians to get what they want. So endorsing Hillary isn’t so bad if millions of Americans that are being jailed and stamped with a bad reputation for smoking marijuana no longer have this issue. Everyone wants a president to just give everyone what they want and that is literally impossible. One step at a time.

    5. Joey No-Thumbs says:

      A Jerry Brown Democratic National Committee member introduced a hemp and marijuana amendment during the 1992 Democrat National Platform hearings, but it only received 14 votes and failed to pass. Just a mere 24 years ahead of his time.

    6. Mark Mitcham says:

      Agreed, and I extend my thanks to Senator Bernie Sanders as well!

      And may I just say, now that the Democratic National Convention has in fact completed, and a finite amount of time has passed since then, that we have just traveled a “reasoned pathway to the future” and are, in fact, IN THE FUTURE — SO LEGALIZE IT, ALREADY! NOW, GODDAMN IT, NOW!!

      Fuck the DEA. It’s time to defund and disband the DEA. They had their chance to deschedule cannabis, and they consistently refuse to do it. They refuse to serve the American citizenry; that makes them a rouge agengy. They are useless, violent and ignorant. They are parasites. They serve no good purpose. Who fucking needs ’em, anyway? I wonder what it would take get rid of the entire agency?

      • Mark Mitcham says:

        I meant “rogue agency.”

      • Danny says:

        Perhaps it’s time to exercise some 2nd Amendment solutions.

      • Rob says:

        That is a very uneducated statement. It’s one thing to feel strongly about something but at least back it up with an educated response and response. It is people like you that wether you see it or not are keeping marijuana nay sayers on the winning team….

    7. Julian says:

      You’re having fun with these Trump supporters aren’t you Keith? 🙂
      We can only imagine some of the hate-filled diatribes NORML has to edit from pasting Hillary’s face up on the blog and singing “Some day” to the Republican platform! (Cue the Third Party-too-good-for-Sanders-supporters…)
      To be fair, the Republican National Committee pissed on the third rail by leaving out at least medicinal marijuana reform in their platform. Platforms are a reflection of the values that a party shares that influence voter identity and participation… Hence our vote.
      Even state Republican platforms in places without voter initiatives like here in Texas did include at least industrial hemp and improvement to the Compassionate Use Act, which shows just how far out of touch the National Republican Party is even with its own voting constituency.
      But before we get into another math lesson about why no third party candidate has a real chance at becoming President this November, I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that voting for our local government like Mayors and city councils is where we need to start our focus, then work our way through the NORML Congressional Scorecard (type “scorecard” in the custom search above), and please, PLEASE focus on the A-B Senators and Reps this election season;


      After the way the treasonous Republican House killed the Veterans access to marijuana and after the insubordinate, unpatriotic language of Drumph who had to be shamed into donating to veterans when he said he would, the Democrats have got the Senate in sight and should grab as many House seats as possible if we all get our Democratic voters out and vote!

    8. elelo says:

      About darn time. I will be voting for candidates that favor legalization no matter what party. For now Dems have my vote, Since I disagree with Repubs VP choice and Chris Christie hanging round with Trump. They also did not include legalization in their platform Dems did.

      • don ridall says:

        If the dems are so into it why hasn’t it happened.

        • Galileo Galilei says:

          To avoid giving the Conservatives an issue to run on.

          I have no reason to vote Republican this November. Maybe next time if they change their tune on weed and run a real candidate.

        • AntiRepublicanSmokha says:

          Read the article, moron. Dems ARE for it. It hasn’t happened cause everyone wants to do it perfect … Certainly will never happen with Trump or ANY Repugnicant… You’re probably a stupid southerner to say that. Slavery is NOT ok, Jim Bob. How would you like to be the slave?

          • I get so sick of people who just assume that if someone is from the south, that they must be stupid, or just because someone is stupid, they must be from the south! There are a lot of intelligent people here, and a lot of stupid people who moved here from the NORTH.

            • I would also like to add, a lot of northern voters moved here and voted in Republicans like Rick Scott, and Rubio. But you can’t always go by the D or R after a name, consider Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, a Republican pretending to be a Democrat. We missed the vote for medical by 3 points because the set the goal at 60%

    9. Cajun dready says:

      This platform won’t change my vote. I won’t vote until action is taken. It just seems like thier just trying to get more votes by adding this to thier platform.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah, you’re right Cajun, vote for the party–GOP–that wants to keep pot illegal, that wants to keep sending pot smokers to prison. You’re logic is truly incredulous.

    10. Galileo Galilei says:

      Deny the GOP the White House this election. Now’s the time, NORML fans. The conservatives will change their tune on prohibition for the next election.

      If not, don’t vote for them then either.

      • MSimon says:

        The Democrats have had 8 years. So far nothing other than States Rights. Which is also Trumps position on recreational.


        Trump – I’m for it 100%
        Hillary – It needs more study.

        Do you think Hillary is getting donations from the cartels? When she says “There is too much money in it” it makes you wonder.

        • Evening Bud says:

          “The Democrats have had 8 years. So far nothing other than States Right.”

          You’re so selective in your statement.

          Let’s see, Obama had 8 years to send his AG after the four states that have legalized. He had 8 years to send in the Feds to close the clinics, 8 years to tie up legalization in those states in court, 8 years to use his bully pulpit to decry legalization in those four states.

          But he didn’t do any of those things. Things that plenty of conservatives and libertarians assured us that he would.

          Somehow I don’t think we would’ve seen the same scenarios play out had the old War Horse, John McCain, been prexy, or the plutocrat himself, Mitt Romney.

          Romney’s 2012 prexy campaign website, which is still up, quotes the Mittster thusly:

          “People talk about medicinal marijuana. And you know, you hear that story that people who are sick need medicinal marijuana. But marijuana is the entry drug for people trying to get kids hooked on drugs. I don’t want medicinal marijuana; there are synthetic forms of marijuana that are available for people who need it for prescription. Don’t open the doorway to medicinal marijuana.”

          That’s right, kids, Mittster was recommending friggin’ synthetic marijuana!!! Yep, we should put the GOP in control of the white house!

          In truth, the Repubs that we really need to send packing in this election are the Senators and Congressmen. The GOP-dominated House has routinely rejected all efforts to legalizize pot on a national scale.

          Those conservatives and libertarians who scream loudly about Dems hindering legalization somehow always forget to mention the much more brazen role the Republican party plays in keeping pot illegal.

        • sk says:

          While access to medical marijuana is important, it’s a distraction at this point. If Trump does not legalization, then he’s not pro-marijuana.

          Simply, legalization benefits everyone and the GOP has proven that this is not their position.