Democrat National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is no friend of medical pot.
In recent weeks, the Florida Congresswoman has both spoken out against and voted in opposition to efforts to reform state and federal cannabis policies.
In early May, Wasserman Schultz joined with a majority of US House Republicans to vote ‘no’ on a Congressional amendment that sought to allow military doctors to discuss cannabis therapy with veterans in states that already permit the plant’s therapeutic use. Commenting on her vote, Wasserman Schultz called the measure “premature” -- citing the recent federal approval of a University of Arizona study assessing the use of cannabis in soldiers with post-traumatic stress. “[T]he Congresswoman looks forward to the results of that study before making a policy determination,” a spokesperson said.
But such results likely remain years away. The FDA initially signed off on the Arizona study in early 2012, but Public Health Service administrators, who by law must approve any clinical trial involving whole-plant cannabis, failed to green light to the trial until March 2014. Yet the trial still remains in limbo because NIDA presently possesses an insufficient supply of the CBD-dominant cannabis strains called for in the study.
Last week, Wasserman Schultz was one of only 16 Democrats to vote against an historic House amendment limiting the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute medical cannabis patients and providers who are operating in compliance with state law. House members ultimately passed the amendment, which states “None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana,” by a vote of 219 to 189.
Most recently, Wasserman Schultz spoke out against a pending constitutional amendment in her home state that seeks to legalize the use and state-licensed distribution of cannabis when authorized by a physician. The measure is presently supported by 88 percent of all Floridians, including an overwhelming 93 percent of the state’s Democrats, according to a May 5 Quinnipiac University poll. Yet the DNC Chair remains unimpressed. “Pertaining to the ballot initiative in Florida, I have concerns that it is written too broadly and stops short of ensuring strong regulatory oversight from state officials,” she told the Tampa Bay Times this week. “Other states have shown that lax oversight and ease of access to prescriptions can lead to abuse, fraud, and accidents. Also, given Florida’s recent history in combating the epidemic of ‘pill mills’ and dubious distinction as having among the highest incidents of fraud, I do not believe we should make it easier for those seeking to abuse the drug to have easy access to it.”
(FYI: Contrary to Wasserman’s Schultz’s claims that passage of Amendment 2 would provide ‘easy access’ to pot, the language mandates that a physician certify that a patient possesses a ‘debilitating disease’ and restricts cannabis access points only to those licensed by the state Department of Health.)
In recent days, marijuana law reform advocates have fired back against Schultz. The group Americans for Safe Access has begun airing television ads in the Congresswoman’s district. The 30-second ad spot argues that the DNC Chair “thinks it’s okay for marijuana patients to go to federal prison,” and suggests that she’s “out of touch” with Florida voters.
In addition, Amendment 2 backer John Morgan -- a longtime Democrat donor and political operative -- has publicly vowed to withhold his support from the Party as long as Wasserman Schultz remains Chair.
“Why she’s trying to undermine this amendment I don’t know,” he said. “But I’ll tell you I will never give a penny or raise a penny for the national party while she’s in leadership. And I have given and helped raise millions.”
He added: “I know personally the most-powerful players in Washington DC. And I can tell you that Debbie Wasserman Schultz isn’t just disliked. She’s despised. She’s an irritant.” Morgan also vowed to active oppose the Congresswoman should she seek a Florida Senate seat in 2016.
Spokespeople for the DNC Chair have so far had ‘no comment’ in regards to the blowback against the Congresswoman.
Paul Armentano is deputy director of NORML.