U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is shifting her decades-old stance in favor of federal marijuana prohibition, she said in an interview with McClatchy on Tuesday.
The California senator has consistently declined to endorse state ballot initiatives to reform marijuana laws—including the state’s historic medical cannabis proposition in 1996 and its 2016 recreational marijuana legalization bid. She has also voted against efforts in Congress to shield medical marijuana patients and providers from federal interference.
But in a surprise about face, Feinstein said that she now backs efforts to prevent federal intervention in California’s legal marijuana program.
“Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law,” she told McClatchy, saying that her views shifted after meeting constituents who have benefited from medical cannabis.
To some, the timing of Feinstein’s reversal is suspect. The moderate Democrat, who has represented the state in the Senate since 1992, is facing reelection competition from a progressive challenger, Kevin de Leon, whose views on the issue are decidedly friendlier to cannabis reform. De Leon, a California state senator, condemned the Trump administration’s decision to rescind federal protections for states that passed marijuana laws in January, for example.
Feinstein’s shift on marijuana legalization “is not surprising,” Jonathan Underland, a spokesperson for de Leon, told Marijuana Moment. “It is good to see that Senator Feinstein is catching up to what voters knew 22 years ago, but values should transcend political quests to hold on to power.”
The move also comes shortly after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), himself a longtime proponent of the war on drugs, announced plans to introduce legislation to remove marijuana from the list of federally banned substances.
The recent paradigm shift in marijuana politics has taken various forms, including a bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to legalize marijuana at the federal level, which has been co-sponsored by prominent lawmakers such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
De Leon pledged to join Sanders as a co-sponsor of the legislation if he won his Senate bid.
“[Booker’s] bill recognizes that legal cannabis is the law of the land in California and many other states,” he wrote. “More importantly, it corrects deep-rooted racial disparities in our criminal justice system. I would join [Sanders] as a cosponsor in a heartbeat.