ORLANDO — The Democratic Party endorsed a "reasoned pathway to future legalization" of marijuana and called for the drug to be downgraded in the Controlled Substances Act, in a tense and unexpected victory for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Going into the platform committee meeting, Sanders's campaign had no new language about marijuana. The senator from Vermont had favored state-to-state legalization efforts, and the language approved by the drafting committee called for "policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty."
But on Saturday afternoon, the committee brought up an amendment that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. David King, a lawyer and Sanders delegate from Tennessee, argued that marijuana was added to the act — giving the drug the same legal classification as heroin — during a "craze" to hurt "hippies and blacks." The amendment, however, was headed for defeat, with some committee members worrying that it went too far and undermined state-by-state efforts to study decriminalization.
Arguments stopped when committee members proposed swapping in the language of a rival amendment — one that merely downgraded marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act and included the undefined "pathway" to legal status.
When the vote was called, 81 of the 187 committee members backed the downgrade amendment — and just 80 opposed it. A roar of applause went up from the seats where people not on the committee were watching the votes.
For the next 10 minutes, that victory was thrown into jeopardy. Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, the co-chair of the platform committee, entertained a complaint that at least one member might not have been able to vote, lacking the "clicker" that recorded electronic ballots.
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