California Senator Dianne Feinstein Changes Tune on Legal Cannabis

Is Senator Dianne Feinstein serious about her changed views, or is this a political tactic for the upcoming November election?
California Senator Dianne Feinstein Changes Tune on Legal Cannabis
Becky Hammel/ Feinstein Senate Official

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has announced that she has changed her tune on legal cannabis, according to media reports. The Democratic veteran of the Senate has long opposed legalizing marijuana at the federal level.

But on Tuesday, Feinstein indicated a shift in her thinking. Now she says the federal government should not interfere in states with legal pot.

“Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law,” she said.

The Senator changed her mind after meeting with medical marijuana patients and advocates, including children and their parents. But in the past, she had only offered lukewarm support for the medicinal use of cannabis.

And in 2016 Feinstein staunchly opposed Prop 64, the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in California. She said that during her time on the state parole board, she had seen too many offenders who “began with marijuana and went on to hard drugs.”

Prop 64 was passed by 57 percent of voters and subsequently, California’s legal pot market began this year.

While Feinstein now wants the federal government to respect Prop 64, she also supports tight regulation of the measure.

“My state has legalized marijuana for personal use, and as California continues to implement this law, we need to ensure we have strong safety rules to prevent impaired driving and youth access, similar to other public health issues like alcohol,” she said.

And when Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo earlier this year, Feinstein barely raised a fuss.

“It’s all unclear to me, and it’d be helpful to have some clarity so we know exactly what the situation is,” she said at the time.

The Senator has also resisted an amendment that prevents the federal government from spending money on prosecuting individuals and companies complying with state medical cannabis laws. In 2015 she was the only Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to oppose such a measure. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment then received bipartisan support and was eventually passed into law.

Change of Heart or Political Ploy?

Feinstein is currently running for reelection to her Senate seat. But before she can make it on the November ballot, she is facing a challenge from the left in June’s primary.

Kevin de León, a member of the California State Senate, is running against Feinstein in the primary election. He is receiving support from progressives who see Feinstein as too moderate for California.

De León hasn’t been a big supporter of legalized pot, but he also hasn’t come out against it. And although he is currently 26 percentage points behind Feinstein in the polls, he is receiving strong support from young voters. The California Young Democrats have endorsed de León’s bid for Feinstein’s seat. The political group has more than 10,000 members in the state.

Seventy percent of the youngest members of the electorate support legalizing marijuana, according to Pew research. And that block of voters is about to get even larger. Under a new law in California, the state will automatically register teens to vote when they apply for a drivers license or identification card. Officials subsequently expect to add hundreds of thousands of new voters to the rolls each year. That could mean even more support for legal marijuana.

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