Friday Talking Points — Marijuana Policy Questions for the Candidates
04/08/2016   By Chris Weigant | The Huffington Post

There was some good news and some bad news on marijuana this week, which got us thinking about how the subject of federal marijuana policy relates to the presidential nomination race. So while we’ll take care of the news (good and bad) in the awards section, we’re going to also devote the talking points section to a list of questions we would love to hear answered by all the candidates. Obviously, the answers from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are the most important, since they’d be the only ones who might actually try to improve the current situation, but it really shouldn’t excuse the Republicans from having to answer them as well. Rather than just a quick “Do you support medical marijuana?” question, we really think the issue needs to be addressed in a little more depth.

In non-marijuana news, the presidential campaign just keeps chugging along. This week was a good one for the underdogs, as both Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz won big in the Wisconsin primaries. Of course, this sent all the political pundits into a tizzy, all but declaring Donald Trump’s campaign dead in the water. They seemed to collectively forget that the next big state to vote is New York, where Trump will quite likely crush the competition (Ted Cruz is already regretting that “New York values” dig he made toward Trump in an earlier debate). But until then, expect lots and lots of rampant speculation about an open Republican convention. Earlier this week, Salonpointed out that things could get quite ugly if the GOP does manage to wrest the nomination away from Trump (which led me to write about how the “days of rage” might actually come to pass). Short answer: Trump followers aren’t just going to quietly accept Paul Ryan as the nominee. Far from it.

On the Democratic side of things, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are getting a little more feisty in how they’re referring to each other. The media is trying to turn this into some sort of “open warfare,” but what is really happening is they are both vying for New York voters. New Yorkers are a pretty brash and outspoken lot, so all we see is the candidates using rhetoric the crowd wants to hear, really. The New York contest is an interesting one because both Democrats can claim “home state” status here — Bernie was born in New York City, and Hillary was the state’s senator for eight years. Hillary has already won the other two states she can claim (Illinois and Arkansas) and Bernie won Vermont, so now New York will get to vote for either a “favorite son” or a “favorite daughter.” So far, Hillary has the polling lead, but that could change after next week’s debate, so stay tuned!

Hillary tried to stage a photo op to tease Bernie about not knowing how to ride the subway in New York City (Bernie’s “you buy a token” was a wee bit out of date), but she kind of blew it when she obviously didn’t know how to use the farecard herself. This led to an amusing dig at Hillary from none other than Michele Bachmann.

The other embarrassing news for Hillary this week came from her husband. Bill was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters at a campaign event, and he tried to argue them into submission. This didn’t work out as well as he might have planned, however. Bill tried to defend his own record as president, which is obviously personal to him, but in doing so he sounded rather dismissive of the opinions he was disagreeing with. This is not exactly helpful to Hillary right now, since any drop in African-American support for her could be disastrous in the next states to hold primaries. We’ll have to wait and see just how big an impact Bill’s back-and-forth with Black Lives Matter winds up having.

And finally, in the most appropriate inadvertent acronym since George Bush wanted to call his invasion “Operation Iraq Liberation,” George Mason University announced last week that it was going to change the name of its law school to the “Antonin Scalia School Of Law.” Because ASSOL (or even ASSLAW) is the perfect way to remember Scalia!

Bernie Sanders deserves at least an Honorable Mention for chalking up an impressive 14 percent victory over Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, which was a much larger margin than anyone was predicting. This continues a winning streak for Bernie, and (importantly, for him) this was the first primary (as opposed to caucus) that Bernie won in that streak. He’s now won seven of the last eight contests (six states plus Democrats Abroad), and if he wins again tomorrow night in Wyoming, this will improve to eight out of nine.

[Program Note: For those playing along with our “predict the primaries” series of columns, this counts as my prediction: Bernie will indeed handily win the Wyoming caucuses tomorrow night.]

At the end of the week, Bernie announced he’d be taking a day off the campaign trail to accept an invitation to address the Vatican on income inequality, also a favorite subject of Pope Francis. That’s a pretty impressive way to cap off a pretty good week, we have to admit.

But this week the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to eight Democrats in the Senate who sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency posing some rather important questions about federal marijuana policy. These senators are: Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Barbara Mikulski, Ed Markey, Barbara Boxer, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand. All of them (except Warren) are also co-sponsors of a bill introduced last year “designed to drastically reduce the federal government’s ability to crack down on state-legal medical marijuana programs while also encouraging more research into the substance.”

This effort was in the news because the D.E.A. finally responded in a 25-page letter of their own. The D.E.A. revealed that they were going to try (there were some weasel words used) to complete a review of the possibility of rescheduling marijuana on the federal list of controlled substances “in the first half of 2016.” This means the law could change as early as this summer. They also revealed that they have already received a recommendation from the F.D.A. on the matter, but they did not reveal what it said.

This is the key issue in ending the federal War On Weed (which I explained in detailyesterday, if anyone’s interested). Take out this one stumbling block, and the rest of federal marijuana policy can start to change to a realistic and sane approach, in other words. So it’s a big deal.

For a long time, the D.E.A. under the Obama administration refused to face the new reality of states legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. Finally, to the vast relief of drug policy advocates everywhere, last year Michele Leonhart stepped down from leading the agency. The decision on rescheduling marijuana simply would not have been possible under Leonhart, but there is hope with new leadership that the agency will finally move beyond the worst attitudes of the War On Drugs and start to help craft a new federal legal policy. It’s too early to celebrate — in their letter, the D.E.A. gave absolutely no hint which way it is going to act.

But for spurring this process along, and for writing legislation to end some of the worst excesses from the past, we have to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to the eight senators who are showing real leadership on the issue.

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