Advocates had strong words, including a resignation call, for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz following her New York Times Magazine interview, in which the DNC’s leader suggested marijuana was more dangerous than opiates and discussed her lifelong aversion to the “drug culture” surrounding other people’s childhoods.
“I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs,” Wasserman-Schultz told interviewer Ana Marie Cox, using the familiar gateway drug argument. “We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.”
Taylor West, Deputy Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Cannabis Now the Congresswoman’s arguments “don’t make any sense” given the gateway drug argument so often levied against cannabis is an idea that “has been roundly debunked by research.”
“It is even more unconscionable that Congresswoman Schultz would use these fundamentally wrong arguments to deny patients legal access to the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana,” West said.
Ben Pollara, campaign manager of Florida’s United for Care, a group pushing medical marijuana reform in 2016 as it did in 2014, told Cannabis Now this isn’t the first time the DNC Chair has used America’s heroin crisis to scare voters about cannabis legalization.
“[Wasserman-Schultz] has consistently conflated [opiates and marijuana] and used the specter of the heroin/opiate addiction crisis to justify her opposition to any meaningful marijuana reform,” said Pollara.
During the Times interview, when Cox pointed out that prescribed opiate painkillers are a legally-available gateway to the heroin epidemic, Wasserman-Schultz replied, “there is a difference between opiates and marijuana.”
Pollara said Wasserman-Schultz was right, but not in the way she may have meant.
“One difference she appears not to recognize,” he said, except for heroin, “opiates are primarily Schedule II or III drugs with the DEA, while the significantly safer marijuana remains a Schedule I substance.”
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 presidential candidate Wasserman-Schultz is widely assumed to support, has called for the rescheduling of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II alongside those opiates, cocaine and methamphetamine, but Wasserman-Schultz does not support that move. The other major Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders, has called for unscheduling marijuana entirely.
Wasserman-Schultz defended her outlier position relative to “my fellow progressives,” saying, “It’s perfectly OK not to be completely predictable. I am a person, and I have individual opinions that may not line up ideologically. They’re formed by my personal experience both as a mom and as someone who grew up really bothered by the drug culture that surrounded my childhood – not mine personally. I grew up in suburbia.”
“Perhaps if Representative Wasserman-Schultz had ‘personally’ observed the ‘drug culture’ that she observed from suburbia,” said Pollara, “she would have a different perspective and realize that the truly destructive forces have been much more the War on Drugs that she consistently votes to perpetuate, rather than the marijuana which helps sick and suffering Americans in nearly half the states in the union.”
Wasserman-Schultz grew up in wealthy towns on Long Island in the late ’70s and ’80s, as Jezebel notes, calling this statement “the most troubling of the bunch… the main issue here is that whatever informs her views, her hardline stance on marijuana directly contributes to the marginalization of people who maybe don’t have the same economic privilege.”
Perhaps if those bad elements in the drug culture surrounding other people’s non-suburban childhoods had more in the way of campaign funds to offer, Wasserman-Schultz might change her mind. The current fifth-biggest supporter of her re-election fund is the booze industry. The $18,500 raised comes from Southern Wine & Spirits ($10,000), the National Beer Wholesalers Association ($5,000), Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America ($2,500) and Bacardi, Ltd. ($1,000).
Or, perhaps Wasserman-Schultz can be bought even more cheaply. Last year, John Morgan, the major donor behind Florida’s medical marijuana push, revealed her offer to flip-flop on support for marijuana legalization in exchange for his retraction of critical statements about her that he’d made to the press. The flap caused enough controversy that the White House fielded questions at the daily briefing about the report the following day.
“She stands for nothing,” Morgan told Cannabis Now. “She only represents herself. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is a transactional politician.”
Morgan called for Wasserman-Schultz’ to step down.
“She needs to resign as Chairman of (the) DNC. She does not represent our values.”
Wasserman-Schultz is now at least a three-time lightning rod within Democratic circles. She is widely blamed for her lackluster, self-serving leadership throughout the party’s 2014 midterm election debacle, and last month she managed the impressive trick of alienating Sanders’ supporters while earning scorn from Clinton supporters for her handling of a campaign data controversy.
What do you think? Do the opinions of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’ reflect those of the American voter?