• January 21, 2021

EXCLUSIVE: “It’s embarrassing,” AOC on DNC’s Rejecting Marijuana Legalization

 EXCLUSIVE: “It’s embarrassing,” AOC on DNC’s Rejecting Marijuana Legalization

AOC after just voting on the House floor. Photo by Matt Laslo

AOC dons one of Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) famous collection of more than 1,000 hats – which the Young congresswoman later signed – on the House steps in between votes on Wednesday. Photo Courtesy of Matt Laslo

Democratic leaders have angered progressives once again. Only this week, it was a completely unforced error, as the Democratic National Committee decided to reverse the party’s historic position on marijuana legalization from 2016 and instead followed the lead of its presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden and opted to merely endorse decriminalization.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing that this is not on the Democratic platform,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The News Station on the steps of the Capitol. “The Democratic platform on this issue is more conservative than it was in 2016.”

Some in the party, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) – a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus – have argued in the past that Hillary Clinton would have beat now-President Donald Trump had she gone beyond the lukewarm, if historic, party platform four years ago and fully embraced legalization, as opposed to just signaling a willingness to set the nation on a pathway towards it. That’s why progressive leaders are bewildered.

“I mean, it’s so backwards, right?” Ocasio-Cortez said. “This just goes to show why the progressive movement is so important right now, because it defies all logic to me, especially when we’re talking about policing.”

On Monday, DNC delegates voted 105-60 to opt for decriminalization, as opposed to the outright legalization the party moved towards four years ago. That’s why pro-cannabis Republicans smell blood in the water.  

“I’m trying to get my party to move forward. I don’t know why the Democrats are moving backwards,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told The News Station after casting a vote on the House floor.

Still, some pro-cannabis Democrats say this isn’t the end of the world, because party platforms are merely aspirational, not binding.

“As a Democrat, I would say that there are many things on that platform that never get to be implemented, and there are many things that are not on that platform that become law,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) told The News Station. “Platform documents are kind of a guidance – it is a platform that you aspire to as the Democratic Party.”

But after Biden called cannabis a “gateway drug” during the primary, Ocasio-Cortez says progressives need to continue being thorns in the side of Biden and his brain trust.

“There is an ideological diversity in the party, and right now the top of the ticket is in the more conservative part of the party,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “That’s the reality. And it’s on us to push.”

Marijuana legalization – in one form or another – is now supported by two-thirds of Americans of all stripes. That makes Biden’s – and now the entire party’s – position the actual elephant in the room.

“This is just an acknowledgement of the fact that it’s not good enough to just think that we can pull a lever for any Democrat and expect these issues to happen,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “There is an ideological diversity in the party, and right now, the top of the ticket is in the more conservative part of the party, and that’s the reality.”

Last week Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) told The News Station that he’s “confident that under a Biden administration, we will take strides in marijuana justice like we have never seen before in history. I know he knows it’s unjust. I know he knows that this system is not fair, and I know he is committed to ideals of fairness and justice. So I think there’s a lot of space to work with him.”

When asked if she’s confident of the same, Ocasio-Cortez let out a hearty – if trepidatious – laugh on the well worn steps just outside the House floor.

“No, no, I’m not confident, because I do know that this is an issue that is just, frankly, it’s very unique to him,” Ocasio-Cortez said of her party’s new standard bearer. “His attitude towards it is very personal, and it’s been shaped over decades of attitudes towards marijuana. And that doesn’t just change when you present someone with research and popular support.”

That’s why Ocasio-Cortez is vowing to get her massive following to keep the pressure up on Biden and other top Democratic leaders.

“The progressive movement, you know, we continue to be at the forefront of the party,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Making sure that the ideas and frankly, the rights and the issues that we’re going to be contending with the next generation, we start to address right now.”

To the 30-year-old congresswoman who already upended the Democratic establishment by ousting one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s top lieutenants, now former-Rep. Joe Crowley, her job description includes convincing the septuagenarian’s running her party to merely open their eyes.

“In this issue, it’s not even about being futuristic or next generation,” Ocasio-Cortez told The News Station. “This is an idea whose time has come.”

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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