Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz votes in favor of medical pot amendment despite past opposition

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz AP

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who has taken heat for her opposition to medical marijuana, quietly took a vote in favor of it last week.

In 2014, she opposed Florida’s constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana — a rare position for a South Florida Democrat — that led to a spat between her and wealthy trial lawyer John Morgan, who bankrolled the amendment. A similar measure will appear on the ballot in November.

In the past, as a Democrat in a safe liberal district, Wasserman Schultz faced no political repercussions at the ballot box for taking a position out of step with her constituents. But criticism about her stances carry more weight this year because she faces a well-funded Democratic challenger: Tim Canova, who supports medical marijuana.

That’s why her vote related to medical marijuana last week has drawn some attention.

On May 19, Wasserman Schultz joined all but five Democrats in voting in favor of an amendment to allow military veterans’ access to state medical marijuana programs, as first reported by Marijuana.com. A directive currently prohibits Veterans Administration doctors from filling out forms for state medical marijuana programs or discussing the use of medical marijuana with patients.

The amendment sponsored by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, passed 233-189 in the House. The Senate bill has similar language; however, the two versions now have to be reconciled.

In 2014, Wasserman Schultz voted against a similar congressional amendment. At the time, her spokesman said she wanted to wait for the results of a study approved by the federal government to look at marijuana’s potential effects on post-traumatic stress disorder.

But that study hasn’t even started yet. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies said it expects to start the study once it receives the medical marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, according to an article in Science Explorer posted on MAPS website. The organization plans to study the effects of smoking marijuana on 76 veterans with PTSD.

Wasserman Schultz’s spokesman, Geoff Burgan, spoke about why she voted in favor of the amendment this year and her position on the 2016 Florida amendment.

“She believes it is important for VA doctors and veterans to have honest and comprehensive conversations about treatment,” Burgan said. “Rep. Blumenauer’s amendment provided important clarity to ensure that VA physicians can candidly share their medical judgment and expertise with their patients, and that veterans are able to obtain the medical guidance they are seeking from their doctor. By allowing VA physicians to recommend medical marijuana, the amendment empowers doctors to consult the latest studies so as to provide their best medical advice to their patients. She'll continue to thoughtfully evaluate the Florida amendment and other issues in this area.”

Her vote on the VA amendment doesn’t shed much light on whether Wasserman Schultz — who is also the Democratic National Committee chairwoman — will change her overall message on medical marijuana, but it means she’ll continue to face scrutiny about it through the Aug. 30 primary in her Broward/Miami-Dade district.

We asked if Wasserman Schultz is for, against or undecided about Florida’s 2016 amendment and did not get an additional response.

Wasserman Schultz has occasionally taken a stance in favor of medical marijuana in the past. In 2014, she said that she supported the low-THC tablet form to help children with epilepsy and supported Florida’s so-called “Charlotte’s Web” bill to provide that form.

However, as for Florida’s 2014 amendment she said at the time: “I have concerns that it is written too broadly and stops short of ensuring strong regulatory oversight from state officials.”

In a January interview with the New York Times she appeared to suggest that marijuana is a gateway drug:

“I don’t oppose the use of medical marijuana. I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs. We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.”

Supporters of the 2016 amendment — including Morgan, who is again spearheading it — hope that a larger Democratic turnout during the presidential election year will lead to passage.

Morgan said he might invest dollars in an effort to oust Wasserman Schultz.

“I am exploring how to form a PAC to specifically inform her district about her record,” Morgan said.

Morgan’s feud with Wasserman Schultz over medical marijuana escalated when Politico reported in 2015 that Morgan said she offered to change her position if Morgan stopped bashing her — which she denied in an interview with the Sun Sentinel.

Some attacks on Wasserman Schultz’s record on marijuana have exaggerated her stance. In 2015, the Drug Policy Alliance said she “voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison.” She voted against amendments to ban the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.

However, federal law enforcement has not focused its efforts on dying patients and instead zeroed in on major suppliers or distributors. PolitiFact Florida rated the claim Mostly False.

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