Sen. Feinstein Will Not Be Giving Up the Drug War Anytime Soon

Despite legalization successes in other states, senator declares opposition to marijuana initiative in California.


Sen. Feinstein
Nicole Albee/Us Government Work/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will absolutely not stand around and just let Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) snatch away her title of "The Absolute Worst." Feinstein announced Tuesday afternoon that she will oppose California's ballot initiative legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Feinstein is a well-worn drug warrior, and last year was the only Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to vote no on legislation to stop the feds from interfering with states that have legalized medical marijuana use.

She opposed California's previous attempt to legalize recreational marijuana and she's doing so again under the claim that it would harm kids and make the roads more dangerous. Her arguments, though, lack foundation. As Jacob Sullum recently noted, adolescent marijuana use in Colorado is holding steady, not increasing. And Sullum has also looked at the crash statistics and found that drug warriors have been exaggerating the impacts. A Heritage Foundation analyst claimed that fatal crashes in Washington State had increased dramatically since recreational marijuana use was permitted. But in fact, there was a mere increase of seven fatal crashes between 2010 and 2014, and while there was a small increase (10 percent) in the number of fatal collisions in which a driver tested positive for marijuana, there was actually a decline in the total number of people killed in crashes involving all drugs or alcohol. The number of cases where drivers tested positively for marijuana and nothing else rose from nine to 20. Clearly drug warriors want to present numbers like that as percentages to disguise the fact that the flat figures wouldn't and shouldn't inspire fear.

Like a lot of political positions that use fear to justify nanny state authoritarianism, her positions don't have a foundation. Her hostility to marijuana legalization puts her at odds with nearly all of her peers in California (including gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is pushing Prop. 64). As late as last year she was still claiming that marijuana was a "gateway drug."

But while her drug nannying may put her out of step with Democrats, it's certainly keeping with her view as a government that rules over its citizens rather than answers to them. Her desire to regulate everything from guns to video games to drugs to even attempting to legislatively draft tech companies into helping the federal government violate encryption illustrates the mentality that made her one of Reason's "45 enemies of freedom." It doesn't look like she'll be evolving any time soon.