Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new Justice Department policy giving federal prosecutors leeway to take action against individuals and businesses selling marijuana. This is a deviation from precedent the Obama Administration set, which deprioritized cases regarding the selling of marijuana in states where it was legal. This move threatens businesses in the eight states (plus D.C.) with recreational marijuana laws and the almost thirty states that allow medical marijuana and has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle. The Pew Research Center also cites that about 60% of Americans view marijuana favorably.
All of this begs the question of why Sessions is unveiling this new policy that obviously runs counter to widespread legislation and public opinion. Besides having a longtime record of being opposed to marijuana, Sessions is also an epitomical representation of the groups that are holding back progress in this area. Born in 1946, Sessions straddles the line between the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers, with whom marijuana legalization is less popular than Gen Xers and Millennials. Also, a greater share of Sessions’ Republican Party views legalization unfavorably (55%). With the upcoming 2018 elections, marijuana policy will certainly be at the forefront of campaign and candidate discussions. With 70% of Democrats and 65% of Independents supporting it, how forcefully should candidates lean in, especially candidates in so-called ‘swing’ states?
One such example of a young democrat leading the charge forward is Aryanna Berringer, candidate for Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor. Berringer is an Army veteran, non-profit founder, and tireless progressive who has taken her desire for change to the contentious Democratic primary, including challenging incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.
Even before Sessions’ announcement, she had been an outspoken candidate for legalization and believes the profits from it should be used to help all Pennsylvanians. Of her plan, she says: “If Trump and Republicans in Washington don’t come up with their share of funds (there is a State/Fed split for funding CHIP). We can legalize marijuana, tax it, and then use that tax to fund the difference.” Berringer also notes that CHIP was originally funded by a tax on tobacco, so such a move would not be unprecedented.
Berringer’s support for marijuana legalization is not simply based in economics; she also knows the effects of drug offenses firsthand. Her father was convicted on a possession offense that impacted not only his financial future, but also the financial future and stability of her family. As someone who identifies as a mixed-race child who was raised below the poverty line, she believes that without the key social programs she is fighting to preserve, she wouldn’t have become her best self.
While Pennsylvania does have a burgeoning medical marijuana enterprise, efforts for full legalization have not been able to pass the Republican-controlled state legislature. The state’s Auditor General spoke out this past fall suggesting that now is the time to legalize as poll numbers suggest roughly 60% of Pennsylvanians would be in support. Even as that is a majority, the successful track record of Republicans at the state level could be enough to intimidate Democrats into more moderate positions. However, Berringer is proving that, once again, she is more than willing to fearlessly stand up for her beliefs.
Learn more about Aryanna Berringer on her campaign’s website and keep an eye out for primary results on May 15th.