Dianne Feinstein

Help change Feinstein’s mind on marijuana

California’s senior senator voted for medical marijuana before voting against it. Can her constituents change her mind?

By California NORML California senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein turned 82 years old in June. She “celebrated” in advance by casting her first ­ever vote in favor of medical cannabis in late May — only to vote against progress in marijuana policy just a few weeks later.

On May 21, DiFi joined all Democrats and four Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve a spending amendment that would halt funding for any Veterans Administration facility that denies services to clients who use state-legal medical marijuana.

If the full Senate approves, veterans using cannabis for pain or post-traumatic stress disorder will be able to do so through at least mid-2016.
Medical marijuana came to the same committee again on June 11, with a budget amendment that would, like the Cromnibus bill in December, “de-fund” federal Justice Department efforts to tamper with state-legal medical marijuana. This time, faced with the chance to vote in accord with the majority of her constituents’ wishes, Feinstein became the sole Democrat to vote against it.

During the hearing, the former San Francisco mayor repeated the debunked theory that cannabis is a gateway drug, and opined that California’s cannabis industry is increasing the “addiction factor.” She also pointed to a new study that found 41 children under the age of 6 experienced “serious symptoms” after exposure to marijuana as proof that cannabis may not be the safe tonic advocates claim.

But Feinstein, a longstanding ally of marijuana prohibition, has evolved on the topic. During the hearing, she repeated an earlier call for more research into cannabidiol — or CBD, the “non-psychoactive” cannabinoid with increasingly acknowledged medical benefits. In May, Feinstein and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called on the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to consider rescheduling CBD, and to figure out how to “remove any unnecessary barriers that stand in the way of research into the potential medical benefits of marijuana and CBD.” This is bearing fruit: On June 22, health bureaucrats announced that marijuana research will no longer go through Public Health Service review. Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, however.

Meanwhile, Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee on which Feinstein also sits, is blocking a Senate attempt to reschedule. Grassley has so far refused to call the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act for a hearing. Introduced in March by Sens. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the historic CARERS Act — the first major federal marijuana legislation to appear in the U.S. Senate — would reschedule marijuana and would also remove CBD from the Controlled Substances Act entirely. Feinstein’s fellow California senator, Barbara Boxer, has signed on as a cosponsor of the bill.

Booker and Gillibrand were able to dig into the obstructions during a June 24 hearing at the Senate International Narcotics Control caucus — which is co­chaired by none other than Grassley and DiFi. At the hearing, Dr. Tom Minahan of Colton told Feinstein that his daughter, Mallory, had had dramatic decreases in seizures following CBD treatment. Feinstein declared that she supports fast-tracking more funding for an expansion of a research program currently supplying 420 children with severe epilepsy with the GW Pharmaceutical CBD product Epidiolex — and she received assurances from federal drug regulators that research into the benefits of CBD and medical marijuana would be streamlined.

It’s not yet clear if Feinstein will run for re-election in 2018, when she would be 85. To help convince her to help CARERS through, California NORML has started a letter-writing campaign to her. The Drug Policy Alliance is also hand-delivering petitions to her offices. To help change
her mind, visit calnorml.org and feinstein.action.drugpolicy.org.

Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo.