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Pushing the Issue

Which Democratic primary candidates have cannabis plans?

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With nearly two dozen Democrats vying for their party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Donald Trump for the presidency in 2020, the race to the top is tighter than rush-hour traffic, with nearly as many muttered profanities. The queue of contenders includes a former vice president, a slew of U.S. senators, a couple of congresspersons, a mayor, an author with no political experience and many others. I would consult the actual list for more details, but honestly I don’t care.

The logjam of wannabes diminishes the sense of urgency that undergirds the liberal push to dislodge Trump, and while the contestants’ incessant jockeying for position does help flesh out the vast differences among warring wings of a party that must somehow unify if it has any chance of winning next November, each of them is also helping to do the opponent’s job for him—airing each other’s dirty laundry, personally and professionally, which the White House will surely use later. Not that any challengers care, because no one does tunnel-vision quite like an aspirant pol.

That said, all the bickering belies real divisions in policy that need shoring up. One of the key differences relates to marijuana policy. The party was notoriously resistant to liberalizing drug policy in its time on top; little to no progress was made during the Clinton and Obama administrations and, in some ways, things got even worse, especially under Clinton, whose 1994 Crime Bill dramatically sped up the pace of mass incarceration for a number of offenses, including drug possession. The sponsor of that bill was Joe Biden who, 25 years later, is his party’s equivalent of Julius Caesar—the leader whose colleagues are queuing up to shank him on TV.

That team of blade-runners is led by California senator Kamala Harris, who may have already dealt the killing blow by challenging Biden’s record on busing in the first debate. In late July, she introduced legislation to legalize marijuana on the federal level. On this project, she teamed with Jerry Nadler, a New York congressman probably best known for passing out on TV and arguing in public with Nancy Pelosi over whether to impeach the president. The bill would decriminalize weed on the federal level, while expunging possession convictions and providing federal grants to some folks who’ve been negatively impacted by the standard quo.

Her bill, called the MORE Act of 2019, is a slight step beyond the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced in 2017 by colleague (and current opponent) Cory Booker. Booker’s bill would do much of the same, minus the grant action, which would be funded by a 5 percent tax on marijuana sales. It’s unclear how much discussion those two have had on this subject, but one expects it will crop up in future debates, after they’ve finished giving Sleepy Joe the ooh-la-la. That’s when the real action begins.

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