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Cannabis Advocates Kick Off Democratic Convention in Philly’s Main Line Clubhouse

July 25, 2016

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention’s opening this afternoon, America’s cannabis caucus held a fundraiser that put the party on notice: The era of legalization and legitimacy has arrived. The Marijuana Policy Project hosted Oregon’s cannabis crusader, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, but the real star of the show was the event’s locale, the venerable Union League of Philadelphia. 

This was no Deadhead bar. Wikipedia describes it as “a bastion of the elite; among its 3,300 members are leaders in business, academia, law, medicine, politics, religion and the arts.” The 1865 Second Empire-style building is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever set foot in. Everything about it reeks of Establishment. 

Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, one of the evening’s guests of honor, told me: “I've been working on this issue for 30 years, and it is kinda strange to be in here. The Union League is a beautiful facility, an amazingly beautiful place. And for a Southern Jewish guy who's for marijuana it's kind of strange to be here, because this is all about Union guys, Republicans, and Scotch drinkers!" 

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While I had his ear, I challenged Cohen to make the best pitch for his party. Why should pro-cannabis voters vote Democrat? 

Cohen responded: "The Democratic platform is the best it’s ever been on drug reform. The platform says cannabis shouldn't be Schedule I, and that's an improvement. It was a close vote but it happened, and I'm real pleased with that. All the leaders in Congress, with the exception of [GOP Rep.] Dana Rohrabacher — that means 6 or 7 of us — are Democrats. It's the Democrats who vote for all the legislation that puts marijuana on an easier path to acceptance, so [fewer people] get arrested or lose job or housing opportunities. It's always been Democrats." 

Okay, but why Hillary? We put the question to Rep. Earl Blumenauer and his trademark bow tie. 

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"The secretary knows it’s insane that state-legal medical marijuana businesses can't have bank accounts, and [she also] wants to break the research stranglehold," Blumenauer told Leafly. "She understands the tax penalty for state legal marijuana businesses who can't deduct their business expenses, and she's very much into letting the states figure this out in their own way. The stakes are high. This is one thing Bernie and Hillary people can unite on.”

"I've had several conversations with Secretary Clinton and her team,” Blumenauer added, “and it’s very clear that the Clinton administration would build on what the Obama administration has done. I think it would be better, although I'm lobbying the president not to be through fighting [for reform]. He can do some more in his time remaining."

Cohen was a shade more circumspect, but he made a compelling argument just the same. "Hillary Clinton, well, she could be better on this issue, but she couldn't have a better group of [reform-minded] aides to her than the House Democrats and plenty in the Senate, too.” Clinton, Cohen added, “is the hope for people who want to see medical marijuana legalized.” If the federal government ends cannabis prohibition, he said, “it’s gonna be Democrats” who make it happen. 

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I asked Blumenauer: Why not Trump? 

"There are rumors that if Trump were elected, [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie, who's been awful on this, would be his attorney general," Blumenauer said. “Republican leadership killed my bill that would have allowed medical marijuana access to veterans with their VA doctors. [GOP leadership] killed that event though it passed both houses [of Congress]. 

“The Republicans have a schizophrenic approach to dealing with cannabis. A few are helpful, but a majority are not."

Have we arrived? For all the conviviality and useful networking, Michael Bronstein summed the evening up best: "We're at the Union League now,” said Bronstein, a Philadelphia-based political consultant and cannabis legalization advocate. “This is as establishment as anything could ever be. And here we are! This is about legitimizing an industry. The DNC is the perfect place to highlight the seriousness of this issue. [Our presence here] shows mainstream culture that people involved in the cannabis movement are influencing our politics and culture."

Leafly contributor Jay Lassiter will be reporting from the Democratic National Convention all week.

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Header photo by Peter Bond.

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Jay Lassiter

Jay has been covering New Jersey politics since 2005, when he founded a political journalism site and became the first credentialed statehouse blogger in America. He currently reports on politics for Leafly and the New York Observer.

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