Tuesday afternoon, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she no longer thinks the federal government should meddle in California’s legal marijuana market. This is a fairly-dramatic change of tone for Feinstein, a longtime opponent of legalization who has been something of a lone-wolf in her state for her anti-marijuana opinions (she was called “California’s last prohibitionist” by Leafy, the pro-pot website). She has long considered marijuana a “gateway drug,” saying that during her time as a California parole officer during the Gold Rush, she saw many who “began with marijuana and went on to hard drugs.”
Feinstein was strongly opposed to Proposition 64, the law that allowed California, eight other states and the District of Columbia to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2016. And, in 2015, she was the sole Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to vote against preventing federal funds from being used to target state-legalized medical marijuana dispensaries. There were even several Republicans who supported the amendment.
It should be noted, however, that Feinstein is also campaigning to keep her seat, and she is looking to gain support from liberal democrats in a state that has firmly settled in to the legal marijuana market. She is facing a primary challenge from Kevin de Leon—who is 51-years-young, downright spritely compared to Feinstein’s 84 years of age, and has fantastic hair. This just may have weighed on her decision to do an about-face when it comes to marijuana legislation.
There is a new crop of young people in the state who are about to become eligible to vote. Among millennials, support for marijuana legalization is at 70-percent, according to a Pew poll. And, the California Young Democrats have supported de Leon, Feinstein’s primary challenger, in the upcoming Senate race. “It’s easy to look at this one issue and see it as sort of silly, but it broadly touches on all these intersectional issues,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the California Young Democrats. “So I can say with confidence that this matters greatly to young Democrats.”
“Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law,” said Feinstein. “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.”
Her decision also comes in response to the new legislation proposed by Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who has been drafting a bill with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would leave the decision of whether or not to legalize marijuana strictly in the hands of the states. That bill, which Garnder has said President Donald Trump told him he would sign, would need to be reviewed by Feinstein, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Whether Feinstein is trying to lock-up the young Democratic vote, aligning herself with the views of the majority of her state, or trying to secure her victory over her young challenger, doesn’t really matter. It’s not like Feinstein is lighting up a spliff in the state house. She’s not over-the-moon in favor of it. She simply doesn’t oppose it anymore. It’s a small step, for sure. But Feinstein’s change of opinion is significant, especially considering her role on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hopefully this is yet another step in the right direction.