Debbie Wasserman Schultz, US Representative for Florida and head of the Democratic National Committee, has been in the news more frequently since the Bernie Sanders email breach fracas. But she might find herself highlighted with another claim to fame once America gets a load of her baffling (idiotic?) comments on drugs—specifically, marijuana control.
In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Ana Marie Cox used her (condensed and edited) time with the Congressperson to ask about her less-than-progressive viewpoints on marijuana; specifically, that she opposes its legalization, signifying a general break with the party’s prevailing conventional wisdom and an issue that has been divisive for her in the past.
You’re one of a dwindling number of progressive politicians who oppose legalization of even the medical use of marijuana. Where does that come from? 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.
Heroin addiction often starts with prescribed painkillers. Pill mills were a problem in Florida, but the state didn’t make prescribing opiates illegal. There is a difference between opiates and marijuana.
Yes, there really is a difference between opiates and marijuana! Mainly in that the heroin epidemic that the Rep. seems to be so concerned about cannot be directly traced back to the overuse of weed, but it actually can be directly traced back to the overprescription of opiates such as Oxycontin, which hooked users and led the addicted to turn to cheaper, easier-to-acquire street drugs. Such as horse.
This is a known correlation, one that even the United States government–of which Wasserman Schultz is an elected official—acknowledges. One presumes she knows this, and does not have to resort to false equivalencies between the two controlled substances. Giving her the benefit of the condensed and edited doubt, though, let’s move on to the next question:
Still, your opinion on this does seem like an outlier. It’s perfectly O.K. to not be completely predictable. I am a person, and I have individual opinions that may not line up ideologically. They’re formed by my personal experience both as a mom and as someone who grew up really bothered by the drug culture that surrounded my childhood — not mine personally. I grew up in suburbia.
This is the more troubling statement of the bunch, and not just because it’s vague. Wasserman Schultz grew up in some of the tonier parts of Long Island—suburbia, indeed—during the late 1970s and early 1980s, so we can at least surmise that some of the drug culture that “surrounded” her childhood was the one happening miles and worlds away in New York City proper, during another era of rampant heroin addiction. No, the main issue here is that whatever informs her views, her hardline stance on marijuana directly contributes to the marginalization of people who maybe don’t have the same economic privilege. Marijuana criminalization is currently the cause for about half of drug arrests, and in Florida alone—the state Wasserman Schultz is tasked with representing—misdemeanor possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana can result in a $1000 fine and a year in prison.
More crucially, a policymaker who appears to be so woefully misinformed about an issue that is becoming increasingly dire is worrisome, particularly when that policymaker is the chair of the major American party that is supposedly less reactionary than its counterpart. Say it with me: marijuana is not a gateway drug, nor does it have any provable corollary to the heroin epidemic.
Correction: an earlier version of this piece stated that marijuana criminalization was responsible for half of the current prison population. It is actually responsible for half of drug arrests. Jezebel regrets the error.
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Image via AP