The past few years have been a watershed moment for marijuana. Since 2012, four states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis, along with several municipalities and Indian reservations across the nation. Medical marijuana is now approved in the majority of states, and even places where cannabis is not exactly legal have decriminalized it. As of this writing, only 11 states have kept criminal penalties for pot possession in place. Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced that it would be lifting many restrictions on FDA-sanctioned cannabis research, though the FDA has been dragging its heels on the issue. And who else continues to sit on the fence on cannabis? None other than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Hillary’s stance on marijuana is best described as “pragmatic.” It is that same pragmatism that keeps her from calling for wholesale imprisonment of Wall Street criminals. It is that pragmatism that prevents her from committing to breaking up “too big to fail” banking institutions. Such pragmatism makes her incapable of standing up for bold action that would make college free (as it is in most countries) and create the same kind of guaranteed health care enjoyed in virtually every other nation on earth.
And it’s costing her the youth vote.
The recent Iowa Caucus should have been a wake-up call for Hillary Clinton. Although she achieved a razor-thin victory over rival Bernie Sanders among the general electorate, when it came to 17-29 year-old voters, she was beaten – badly. Those young adult voters overwhelmingly went for Sanders by a whopping 70% margin.
True to form, Clinton is calling for “incremental” change on marijuana. She supports changing the DEA classification from Schedule I (having no accepted medical use with a high potential for abuse) to Schedule II (primarily prescription drugs with a high potential for abuse). She is calling for “more research.” Apparently, she has failed to notice the research that has already been done, demonstrating its benefits for cancer patients and in the treatment of ADHD and chronic anxiety issues.
Even though Clinton doesn’t quite go as far as equating marijuana with highly addictive opium-based narcotics such as heroin, she didn’t hesitate to mention both substances in the same statement. She supports the right of state and local government to legalize cannabis, but stops short of calling for an end to “Pot Prohibition” at the Federal level.
What is behind this seemingly schizophrenic stance? Essentially, Hillary’s hedging her bets. While the firebrand Progressive she was as a much younger woman may still be within her somewhere, it has been buried under decades of compromise and surrender that has pulled her into a center-right position. She wants to win has many votes as possible, which is understandable – but she’s still laboring under the delusion that even the centrists of the U.S. lean slightly to the right.
She’s wrong. Even among older voters, centrism has a different connotation today than it did even ten years ago. More important than that, however, is the youth vote that is likely to determine the outcome of this year’s elections. These young people have come of age in a time when they must bury themselves in debt in order to get a college degree, graduating into a job market offering employment that barely allows them to scrape by. Before implementation of the Affordable Care Act, many could not afford or even access health care. Too many of them are unable to afford homes or apartments of their own. They’ve seen their own abilities and talents drop precipitously in value while Wall Street criminals continue to receive fat paychecks for producing nothing of real, tangible value, even as their tax dollars go to prop up corrupt financial institutions and massive global corporations – while Main Street withers and dies on the vine.
They’ve also seen lives and communities destroyed by the sham “War on Drugs.”
Full marijuana legalization at the Federal level may be only one small piece of a complex puzzle, but it is a significant and highly symbolic one. It’s time for Hillary Clinton to get on board – or risk alienating the youth vote more than she already has.