Hillary Clinton's Marijuana Views Signal Little Change

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — This summer has seen major figures weigh in on the topic of cannabis reform -- though Pope Francis promoted a significant anti-marijuana agenda , Hillary Clinton has weighed in on the issue in a manner more directly relevant to American politics.

Also See: Pope Francis Speaks Out Against Marijuana

As of mid June, Clinton announced her thoughts during a CNN interview and town hall with Christiane Amanpour. That said, any perceived "sea change" meant to be broadcast by Clinton's recent comments and her ongoing "metamorphosis" on the topic, is minor if nonexistent in a practical sense.

During the run up to the 2008 Presidential campaign, Clinton previously stated her opposition to decriminalization although leaving the door open for some kind of medical use. At the time, she also supposedly voiced muted support for ending federal raids in states where marijuana is legal.

Now however, as the issue has moved forward primarily driven by state voter sentiment, Clinton's views have clearly evolved although they do not appear to differ from any other established, major party platform position.

"At the risk of committing radical candor, I have to say I think we need to be very clear about marijuana use for medicinal purposes," she said during the CNN segment. "I don't think we've done enough research yet although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances."

As one reason for her hesitancy to go further, Clinton cited the lack of available research, including marijuana's interaction with other kinds of drugs. That said, this response also ignores a reality that is becoming harder to discount. Many patients not only find the drug is the only thing that really helps them, but often stop taking other medication as a result of marijuana's dramatic and overall positive effects.

It is not stretching the bounds of credulity to believe that Clinton's very new -- albeit still minimal -- openness to medical use at least has been motivated for reasons not unlike those of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), if not six months behind him. Reid abruptly changed his long-held views about medical marijuana at the beginning of the year after the success of a legalization ballot initiative in Nevada in 2013. As he told the The Las Vegas Sun in January 2014, "If you'd asked me this question a dozen years ago, it would have been easy to answer. I would have said no, because [marijuana] leads to other stuff. But I can't say that anymore."

Recently expressed voter sentiment is also clearly at work here too. In June, not only did the entire Washington D.C. City Council move to expand medical access (the District has no Home Rule, and such issues in the past have stalled because of the oversight by the federal Congress), but New York and Florida also passed (albeit highly restrictive) medical cannabinoid usage laws via legislative compromise. This month, Washington State will also become the second recreational use market in the country.

Also See: First Cannabis Testing Lab Authorized By Washington State

The summer has also seen the first, although no doubt not the last, national clash on political positions about pot which occurred just before Clinton's interview. In this case, events focused national attention on Florida, which is set to legalize wider medical use in November by ballot vote. The interest was clearly motivated not only because of growing national acceptance to the issue but the immediate subsequent attempts of the national Democratic Party to portray the blow-up as a "local" squabble.

Also See: Florida Medical Marijuana Gets Big Boost

The unfolding events were triggered with a vote and subsequent statements by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democratic Representative (the first Jewish member of the House from Florida). Wasserman Schultz is also the chair of the Democratic National Committee and a long-time friend and political ally of Clinton. After not only voting to continue federal funding for DOJ and DEA raids in states where marijuana is legal under state law, Wasserman Schultz then expressed criticism of the Florida November ballot initiative as too broad, throwing her support instead behind supporting the narrower newly passed state legislative effort legalizing CBD use, primarily for childhood epilepsy.

Also See: Marijuana Companies Rejoice: Congress Cuts DOJ Weed Prosecution Funding

Florida and New York are also the fundraising centers on the East Coast for the largest Jewish population outside of Israel. New York and Florida are seen by both parties as a national litmus test for development of presidential level policy on several issues. Health care has long been one of them.

The Jewish vote tends to favor medical use marijuana, particularly given Israel's primacy in the world as a center of medicinal cannabinoid research. Research and drugs that come from Israel have been banned in the past from the U.S. market. Federal research in the United States has also been stalled since the drug was classified as a Schedule I substance by the Controlled Substances Act in the early 1970s.

The difference between medical and recreational use, however, is clearly something that is important to voters, although it remains to be seen how much of a difference in support there really is between medical and recreational use. One of the many factually wrong claims made by opponents of the Florida ballot initiative, is that voters are opening the market for recreational use with a vote in November supporting the specifically medical use only marijuana initiative.

When Clinton received an audience generated question on the topic overall during her recent interview, she was also careful to draw a distinction between the two.

"States are the laboratory of democracy," she said. "We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is."

Also See: Former Supreme Court Justice Stevens Speaks Out In Support of Cannabis Legalization

No matter her intent or what other people read into her statements, the reality is that the timing of her interview alone against the backdrop of other events created ongoing attention on a national stage.

Within days of the CNN interview, gadfly GOP mega donor and Nevada gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson announced major backing of the Florida-based fringe group opposing the medical use ballot initiative. While the move has been widely reported in the national press as a vote against the legalization of (at least) medical marijuana, that is not entirely accurate.

Adelson spent most of the War on Drugs opposing marijuana use for what appear to be mostly business related reasons although he has a background, particularly via his wife's impressive research work. No matter his stated positions about marijuana as a "gateway" drug, last year after his home state of Nevada voted to begin a state-wide medical program, Adelson's research foundation published results of groundbreaking cannabinoid research showing both CBD AND THC compounds were highly effective in mice and -- as a result of similarity of symptomology -- human beings suffering with MS like symptoms.

Also See: Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill Leaves Majority of Patients Out in The Cold

Adelson, no matter the success of the candidates, he backed to the tune of $150 million in the last presidential election in 2012, may not care if his dollars back winning races or ballot initiatives. That would be in line with both previous statements on his intent and potentially what he hopes to accomplish now. The 80-year-old Adelson is one of the world's richest men.

It may in fact have been Clinton's statements on CNN that prompted the response from Adelson particularly given the tepidity of her response. With one blow Adelson managed to keep an intraparty, clearly national squabble within the Democratic party alive by shining the light on an embarrassing dust up in Florida over the same.

Adelson himself is a former Democratic voter who has long said that he did not leave the Democratic Party, but rather that it abandoned him.

Clinton's statement, unlike that of Wasserman Schultz however, drew little if no criticism.

Until Adelson picks up his check book.

--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet

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