Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), long one of the left's most intractable opponents of marijuana legalization, has finally recognized which way the wind is blowing. In an interview Tuesday with McClatchy, she said she wants the federal government to leave Californians who are legally smoking pot under state law alone.
"Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law," she said.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But given that Feinstein for all these years has opposed legalization even as her constituency increasingly embraces it, it's an important development. In 2015, Feinstein was the sole Senate Appropriations Committee Democrat to oppose a bill stopping the feds from using federal funds to go after medical marijuana facilities operating legally under state law. In 2016, she opposed the California ballot initiative legalizing recreational use.
To be clear, Feinstein is still as much of a Nanny State control freak as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), who just came around to accepting legalization last month. She makes sure to say that states need "to ensure we have strong safety rules to prevent impaired driving and youth access." She says she will need to review proposed bipartisan legislation that would let the states craft their own rules for marijuana legalization without federal meddling.
But this is a genuine shift. And she has also switched from believing medical marijuana needs more research to saying she "strongly supports" medical marijuana.
Feinstein is up for reelection, and—thanks to California's top-two, party-ignoring primary system—she'll likely be facing another Democrat on the November ballot. She's facing competition from her left, though polls show nobody is even anywhere close to unseating her.
Whatever Feinstein's reasons were for finally coming around, she and Schumer have been absolutely terrible when it comes to recognizing citizens' right to do what they choose with their own bodies. And the consequences of the clampdown they spent years supporting have been terrible. While marijuana use is typically not a huge driver of federal imprisonment, marijuana trafficking does still occasionally get the attention of the Department of Justice. Last month the feds bragged about getting prison sentences for five men for shipping marijuana from California to Florida to sell.
So this is a change a long time coming. We may finally see an end to this small part of the drug war, after decades of life-destroying "reefer madness"–induced punishment.