In a national first, a state Democratic party will include broad and far-reaching drug reform proposals in its platform. It remains to be seen, however, whether candidates on the Democratic ticket in Washington will support the platform planks or whether other state Democratic parties will follow the Washington party's lead.
Among the drug reform planks are proposals for marijuana decriminalization, elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders, and a ban on drug testing except for jobs involving the public safety. The platform also provides for protecting medical marijuana use and, in a page right out of the Netherlands, legalizes the possession of marijuana and allows for its sale in cafes, licensed drinking establishments and state-run liquor stores.
The successful insertion of the reform proposals into the state party platform was the result of diligent grassroots work by activists. One of the drug reform campaigners, Dr. David Edwards of the Drug Policy Forum of Washington, told DRCNet how they did it. "We got the planks and resolutions adopted by having activists submit resolutions at their precinct caucuses and following through the successive levels of caucuses and conventions until they reached the State Platform Committee," said Edwards. "There they rang true to enough Platform Committee members to win inclusion."
Edwards recognizes, however, that this creeping coup inside the party will not necessarily be willingly embraced by party nominees for elective office. In fact, he acknowledged, "I'm sure that many Democratic candidates will try to distance themselves from these planks. So far, they have not had to defend them, and for expediency's sake may try to distance themselves if confronted."
Neither is Edwards especially optimistic about other state parties following the Washington Democrats' example. For one thing, he pointed out, Washington has a relatively open process for adopting platform planks compared to some other states. He also doubted that activists in other states were sufficiently organized to force drug reform planks onto platforms this year. "It takes time to run the resolutions through the system," he said.
Also, Washington state voters are no strangers to the politics of drug reform. In 1998, they backed a state-wide initiative that authorized medical marijuana use for conditions including AIDS and cancer. That effort remains tied in knots by a recalcitrant federal government.
In passing the initiative in 1998, Washington voters reflected attitudes common across the Pacific West, explained Edwards. "Folks in Western states tend to be more favorable, judging from the fact that all West Coast States have approved medicinal marijuana," he argued. "I believe that we now have sufficient verifiable information to make discussion of drug issues and marijuana, in particular, a bit more respectable in political circles, especially on the local grassroots level." And, he noted, "We also may have softened up our Washington State Democrats a bit by having persuaded them to support the Medicinal Marijuana Initiative in '98."
Although the platforms contains various drug reform planks, reform advocates may make a tactical choice to emphasis on or more at the expense of others, at least for the time being. One breakthrough issue may be skyrocketing costs for imprisoning drug offenders. Edwards, at least, believes that, "Prison issues may be the next arena of reform, simply because of costs and overcrowding."
(Also in Washington state, support the Reasonable People ballot initiative to divert nonviolent drug offenders from prison. Visit http://www.reasonablepeople.org to download a petition and join the volunteer campaign!)