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California Shocker: Dianne Feinstein Drops Opposition to Cannabis Legalization

May 1, 2018
(Josh Edelson/AP)
In a major break from her long-held opposition to cannabis legalization, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said earlier today that she now believes the federal government should not interfere with California’s cannabis laws.

Feinstein's office said that the senator’s views changed after meetings with constituents, including parents of children who have benefitted from medical marijuana.

Feinstein’s remarks came in an interview with McClatchy DC bureau reporter Kate Irby.

“Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law,” said Feinstein, who faces a rising challenge from fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon.

De Leon, a progressive state senator from Los Angeles, is peeling votes away from the longtime senator. In the past year Feinstein’s comments about Donald Trump, and her intransigent opposition to cannabis legalization, have made many traditional liberal voters rethink their support for another term.

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Feinstein’s office told the McClatchy reporter that the senator’s views changed after meetings with constituents, including parents of children who have benefitted from medical marijuana.

That reasoning left more than a few cannabis-friendly voters puzzled, though. California legalized medical marijuana nearly 22 years ago. Many of the first children to benefit from medical cannabis now have children of their own.

A more likely reason could be the pressure from the left that De Leon is bringing to bear on the 84-year-old senator.

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In California, Feinstein Challenger De León Seen as a Cannabis Progressive

Feinstein’s continuing refusal to rethink her longstanding opposition to all forms of cannabis legalization—including for medical purposes—has been Exhibit A for opponents who believe time and the state’s voters have passed her by.

In her interview with Irby, Sen. Feinstein said she “strongly supports” the legalization of medical cannabis.

That’s a radical shift in her thinking. Here are a few benchmarks in her career-long opposition to drug reform:

  • In 1996, Feinstein loudly opposed Prop. 215, which legalized medical marijuana.
  • In 2010, she served as the chairwoman of the campaign to defeat Prop. 19, an attempt at adult-use legalization that failed at the polls.
  • In 2015, Feinstein was the only Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to vote against the Rohrabacher-Farr budget amendment, which protects medical patients in states that have legalized medical cannabis.
  • In 2016, she came out against Prop. 64, California’s successful legalization initiative, even though her protégé, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, led the campaign to pass the measure.

Last fall, Leafly contributor Peter Hecht examined Feinstein’s lifelong opposition to cannabis legal reform in a longform profile. He wrote:

Many national observers on cannabis policy remain perplexed by Feinstein’s unchangeable position. For decades, San Francisco’s iron lady has stood against her city and state’s famously tolerant views on marijuana.

To many of her constituents, though, Feinstein’s anti-reform position has long been accepted as an odd curiosity, a minor disagreement on a low-priority issue. But lately it’s become something more. With California’s adult-use cannabis industry set to open in three months, the 84-year-old politician’s intransigence is now seen as a potential vulnerability—a symbol of a Senator and her state moving in opposite directions.

Feinstein’s sudden change of heart may be a sign that she’s working hard to bring her own voice in tune with that of her constituents. Time—and the voters—will tell if it’s a savvy move or a desperate measure that’s seen as too little, too late.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • AFREEAMERICANINAMERICA

    Too little too late senator,your 84 years old & your views on legalization are clear for anyone to see. You oppose legalization & as soon as someone runs against you that supports legalization you flip-flop on your position & jump on the bandwagon to keep your high paying spot. Is your retirement account not large enough or are you living beyond your means? Have the nads to hold your position & get ready for retirement. At least the few constituents that vote for you won’t feel betrayed. I hear that Florida is nice this time of year.

  • A Freedom Fighter

    The fact that she held out so long with her Reefer Madness nonsense is enough proof for me that Diane is just another corrupt politician! Any fool could see that data from the Center for Disease Control and numerous other Public Safety organizations prove beyond a shadow of doubt that cannabis is far safer than alcoholic beverages or tobacco products. There’s only one reason for an and intelligent politician to promote cannabis prohibition and that’s because they’re bought off by corporations for alcoholic beverages, pharmaceutical drugs , private prisons or Worse drug cartels.

  • Alan479 Martin

    When a politician sees that their agenda is costing them votes then they just change their agenda and parade around publicly like nothing bad ever happened. What marijuana crimes ,imprisonment and forfeitures of all property and money? Is she going to see that those imprisoned for possession be released and property restored? All the evidence worldwide, for over half of the last century, proves that alcohol should be illegal not marijuana. Feinstein, Pelosi and Boxer are prime examples of California vote rigging allowing two faced idiots to be elected and re elected.

    • Snegurochka

      Naah, we don’t have an Electoral College in California.

  • Open Minds

    Typical hypocritical politician. I’m still going to vote against her.

    • mrsleep

      Won’t do any good, she’s been an awful person and an enemy of freedom for 40 years, and people still keep voting the hag in.

  • les

    You’ll see the real reason when we find out what Cannabis company she bought shares in, just another lying, scum politician, same as Boeher, made a career sending people to jail, now making money on the drug!

    • kelso

      What drug you talking about.

  • familyguy

    Out with the old in with the new. Giving people like Kevin Sabet and other the benefit of the doubt and hampering the cannabis industry in the state was just not a good choice. She might as well take the Trump approach tell you in public he supports state rights on cannabis yet passes a rider that goes one effect in the next few days that makes it difficult for anyone related to the industry to operate. Dianne, Trump and other republicans are the ultimate backstabbers. Smile at you while plunging the knife deeper. Old gotta go!

  • Fester

    Please vote her out of office.

  • Snegurochka

    Feinstein has long been a corporate appeaser, from back when she supported massive offshoring, and importation of cheap Asian labor in the US, by tech corporate giants.

    Feinstein helped lead to Trumpism by supporting the exporting of American science and technology to Asia. Not coincidentally, her billionaire husband Richard Blum has big business interests in Asia.

    Now a young, articulate challenger in Kevin de Leon has arisen. Feinstein is in a panic that the Senate seat that she thinks she OWNS may be a real race this election.

  • ALAN GANN

    THIS CORRUPT POLITICIAN IS TELLING US WHAT SHE THINKS WILL GET HER VOTES!!! AFTER SOOOO MANY YEARS OF TAKING BRIBES SO MANY LIKE ME (I HAVE CRPS/RSD) NEEDLESSLY SUFFERED SHE IS LYING HER ASS OFF BECAUSE SHE IS AFRAID SHE WILL LOSE PERIOD!!!!! #ResistHerCorruptionAndGreed #MakeCannabisLawful

  • Mr. Lucas Brice

    I once sent Senator Feinstein a critical email. Was it a coincidence that not long after, I found myself with a state tax audit?