ORLANDO — The Democratic Party endorsed a “reasoned pathway to future legalization” of marijuana and called for the drug to be downgraded in the Controlled Substances Act, in a tense and unexpected victory for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Going into the platform committee meeting, Sanders’s campaign had no new language about marijuana. The senator from Vermont had favored state-to-state legalization efforts, and the language approved by the drafting committee called for “policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty.”
But on Saturday afternoon, the committee brought up an amendment that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. David King, a lawyer and Sanders delegate from Tennessee, argued that marijuana was added to the act — giving the drug the same legal classification as heroin — during a “craze” to hurt “hippies and blacks.” The amendment, however, was headed for defeat, with some committee members worrying that it went too far and undermined state-by-state efforts to study decriminalization.
Arguments stopped when committee members proposed swapping in the language of a rival amendment — one that merely downgraded marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act and included the undefined “pathway” to legal status.
When the vote was called, 81 of the 187 committee members backed the downgrade amendment — and just 80 opposed it. A roar of applause went up from the seats where people not on the committee were watching the votes.
For the next 10 minutes, that victory was thrown into jeopardy. Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, the co-chair of the platform committee, entertained a complaint that at least one member might not have been able to vote, lacking the “clicker” that recorded electronic ballots.
“If you don’t have a clicker, now is the time to ask for one,” Franklin said.
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Arguments broke out, some of them over the black-curtained divider keeping the committee members from the non-voting observers, and one Clinton delegate complained audibly that the Sanders delegates “wanted 100 percent of everything.” (The vast majority of observers, since Friday, have been Sanders backers.) Finally, former senator Mark Pryor (Ark.), a Clinton delegate, walked up to a microphone to announce that opponents of the amendment were unhappy that the compromise language had been replaced — but not unhappy enough to fight about it.
“We withdraw the objection,” he said.
There was more celebration in the back of the room. Later, after the unanimous adoption of a tough criminal justice reform plank, the grumbling that ended some sessions was replaced by Sanders voters saying: “Thank you! Thank you!”
The text of the marijuana amendment:
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.
The text of the criminal justice amendment:
We will work with police chiefs to invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the creation of national guidelines for the appropriate use of force, including how to de-escalate situations. We will encourage better police-community relations, require the use of body cameras, and stop the use of weapons of war that have no place in our communities. We will end racial profiling that targets individuals solely on race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin, which is un-American and counterproductive. We should report national data on policing strategies and provide greater transparency and accountability. We will require the Department of Justice to investigate all questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings, and we will support states and localities who help make those investigations and prosecutions more transparent, including through reforming the grand jury process.
David Weigel is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 election and ideological movements. Follow @daveweigel