Following in the footsteps of US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore), today Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) signed on as a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act. That measure, originally introduced last year by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, incentivize states to mitigate existing and ongoing racial disparities in state-level cannabis arrests, and expunge federal convictions specific to cannabis possession.
“Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s. It’s not going to work now,” said Sanders, announcing his co-sponsorship in a Facebook Live chat with Cory Booker. “The bottom line is we need to rethink fundamentally our attitude toward marijuana.”
Sanders’ support of the legislation drew praise from cannabis activists. “Leaders in the Democratic Party are increasingly recognizing that leading the charge on legalization is not only good policy, but good politics,” said NORML’s Justin Strekal in a statement. “The constituencies which the party claims to stand for are the ones who have most felt the weight and lifelong consequences of marijuana criminalization.”
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With just three days left before the federal government runs out of money, congressional Democrats are divided over whether to risk a shutdown in order to force Republicans to sign on to a bipartisan immigration deal this week.
It’s the same quandary the party faced last month and twice before that. Only now, the stakes are higher and Republicans appear to be handing them some leverage.
At issue is whether to support a measure to keep the government running absent a deal to grant legal protections for the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children. Last month, Democrats punted on the matter. And with a March deadline looming for the formal end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which protected an estimated 800,000 DREAMers from deportation—they are now facing impassioned demands from their base to take advantage of one of their few remaining pressure points.
“[President Donald Trump] said to the Republican Congress, fix it. Remember that? That’s what he said. Fix it. And it is their job to fix it. So, no, I will not be voting for any [short-term extension] that does not provide legal status to the DREAMers and a path toward citizenship,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told reporters at the Capitol.
But that sentiment is not shared universally across the party, with some lawmakers wary that Democrats would both cede the moral high ground and invite the blame.
“Historically, it’s Republicans that shut the government down and Democrats don’t want to play that,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a progressive Democrat who is up for re-election in a state Trump won in 2016. “Every time the government shuts down or always shuts down, it’s the Tea-Party talking points and it’s threatening to shut the government down, it’s threatening to not pay our bills, threatening default—it’s what they do. Democrats absolutely don’t want to shut the government down.”
The party’s slate of aspiring 2020 presidential candidates—notably Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—has encouraged their colleagues to adopt a more united front. And they’ve been joined by more progressive members of the party.
“There’s no reason we can’t get this done. There is one compromise that can get the votes, and it’s just up to [Republican leaders] whether they want to schedule it or not,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said, referring to the bipartisan compromise brokered last week. “And the reason they don’t want to schedule it is not because it can’t get the votes, but because it can. And they would have to do a bipartisan deal, which they are still allergic to.”