Dianne Feinstein Reefer Madness

Dianne Feinstein's Reefer Madness (graphic by twolf1)

Last night the United States Senate voted to double the penalties for the nation’s newest existential threat: brownies made with marijuana!

The Senate unanimously passed Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)’s “Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act of 2009″ (S. 258) that targets pot brownies and other marijuana edibles preferred by some medical marijuana patients. The bill next moves to the House; if it passes that chamber, anyone making pot brownies or similar products could be subject to double the fines and jail time for regular marijuana.

This bill’s passage marks a step backwards for Congress, which this week also passed the Fair Sentencing Act that reduced the sentencing disparities between cocaine and crack from 100:1 to 18:1. Now we have a new disparity: pot brownies and other marijuana edibles are now treated as something twice as bad as just distributing marijuana.

“Candy Flavored Meth”

Marijuana prohibitionists often hide behind vague threats to children, and DiFi’s bill is no different. Her “Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act” is framed to make politicians afraid to oppose. “How dare you voted against saving kids from dangerous drugs?”

But DiFi doubled down on the “Reefer Madness”-style hysteria. In championing this bill, Feinstein raised the spectre of “candy flavored meth” as the target of her bill. Something tells me that once, sometime, somewhere, someone claimed to have found candy-flavored meth, probably cut with pixie stix. DiFi ran with this to cover for her true target: marijuana edibles.

Really? Pot Brownies?

Yep. While DiFi’s public line was all “candy flavored meth,” the bill is written broadly enough that pot brownies and other marijuana edibles can be grouped into the law. She mentioned marijuana products in her support of the legislation, of course, but she sought to distract. Here’s the relevant text of the bill:

(1) UNLAWFUL ACTS- Except as authorized under this title, including paragraph (3), it shall be unlawful for any person at least 18 years of age to knowingly or intentionally manufacture or create, with intent to manufacture, create, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance listed in schedule I or II that is–

‘(A) combined with a candy product;

(B) marketed or packaged to appear similar to a candy product; and

‘(C) modified by flavoring or coloring the controlled substance with the intent to distribute, dispense, or sell the controlled substance to a person under 18 years of age.

‘(2) PENALTIES- Except as provided in section 418, 419, or 420, any person who violates paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be subject to–

(A) 2 times the maximum punishment and at least 2 times any term of supervised release

The text singles out “candy products,” which is a broad grouping; it also specifies products “modified by flavoring or coloring,” which expands the scope of the law. While the bill is ostensibly aimed at distributing drugs to people under the age of 18, it’s broad enough to pose serious problems for both medical marijuana patients and for dispensaries selling these products to patients.

What’s DiFi got against pot brownies? Prop 19.

Feinstein’s was one of the first bills introduced in the Senate in 2009, and sat idle after it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That is, until California’s Prop 19 to legalize marijuana started gaining momentum in the spring.

Dianne Feinstein is one of the most vocal opponents to Prop 19. Thought she’s not up for reelection, like other Democratic opponents of legalization in California, Feinstein not only opposes Prop 19, but is actively supporting the campaign to defeat the initiative. In order to help the cause of marijuana prohibitionists, she started to move her anti-pot brownie bill.

How did the bill pass?

A member of the Judiciary Committee, DiFi started to push Chairman Pat Leahy to move the bill through the committee. While the bill didn’t go anywhere for 16 months, DiFi had the Judiciary Committee consider the bill on May 27, which passed it on June 17. Then, with the August recess approaching,

At first, the bill wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. But within the last 36 hours, the picture shifted. Firedoglake was ready with an organizing alert to mobilize opposition to the bill. (Though the excellent Students for Sensible Drug Policy were out early with an action to the Senate.) Then, late yesterday, the Senate passed the bill through unanimous consent. Not only did no sane Democratic Senator step up to put a hold on the bill, no Senators even voted against it.

Do do we really need to put more people in jail for marijuana?

Absolutely not. More people are arrested for marijuana possession than any violent crime combined. Blacks and Latinos are unfairly targeted with marijuana arrests; while whites make up a third of marijuana users, relatively few are in prison. Moreover, since 1984, the country’s prison population has quadrupled.  Half of our prisoners are in for drug offenses. We now have 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of its prisoners.

This week Congress voted to reduce sentencing disparities and to reduce prison populations. At a time when the country is taking significant steps to tackle this important issue, Dianne Feinstein and the Senate voted to increase those numbers for… marijuana brownies.

What’s next?

This is one of the many subversive attacks on marijuana legalization by prohibitionists opposing Prop 19. DiFi is only happy to oblige. Countering the prohibitionists will require a massive movement of organized action to give Prop 19 the support it deserves in California. But it goes beyond this election: much needs to be done to sustain activism and organizing in every state that will be voting on marijuana legalization and reform in 2010, 2012, and beyond.