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As Election Approaches, California Senator Dianne Feinstein Flip-Flops on Legal Weed

After decades of opposing marijuana reform, Sen. Feinstein is finally using her power to support legal cannabis. But with elections coming soon, some detractors say it is still too little, too late.

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California Senator Dianne Feinstein voiced public support for a piece of legislation that would protect state-legal cannabis industries from prosecution under federal law, reversing decades of strict opposition to marijuana reform from the San Francisco-based legislator.

In an interview with McClatchy DC on Tuesday, Sen. Feinstein, who is up for re-election this fall, said that she was "open to considering" a federal bill to secure protections for state-legal cannabis. The legislation, introduced last month by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner, would expand the protections of the constantly-threatened Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment to include adult-use marijuana markets.

"Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law," Feinstein told McClatchy reporter Kate Irby.

These days, with over half of the country now within arms reach of either legal medicinal or recreational weed, that opinion is not particularly controversial. But for Feinstein, who has spent the past two decades defying her left wing Golden State colleagues and constituents by opposing cannabis reform legislation at nearly every turn, the Senator's new 420-friendly concession is a revelation.

Feinstein has represented San Francisco in the U.S. Senate since 1992, and despite the Bay Area's front line role in the fight against America's failed war on drugs, Feinstein has actively sought to reinforce prohibition's status quo throughout her entire career.

In 1996, Sen. Feinstein opposed Proposition 215, which eventually passed and legalized medical marijuana for the first time in American history. 20 years later, in 2016, Feinstein took the same negative stance on Proposition 64, the ballot initiative that legalized the Golden State's adult-use cannabis industry. Between those two poles, Feinstein repeatedly used her Capitol Hill vote to combat cannabis legislation, and was the only Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to vote against the 2015 Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which protected state-legal medical marijuana from federal interference.

With the rollout of California's adult-use cannabis market over the past five months, as well as legal weed joining immigration and social justice reform as leading tenants for left-wing politicians in the age of Trump, Feinstein's newfound cannabis support comes at a convenient time. For some pundits, Feinstein's change of tune is seen as simply a reaction to those larger political forces. And with a tense midterm election coming up, including a stiff challenge from Democratic state senator Kevin de Leon, Feinstein might feel pressured to back legal weed issues, regardless of her personal opinion.

"It's easy to look at this one issue and see it as sort of silly, but it broadly touches on all these intersectional issues," Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the California Young Democrats, told McClatchy. "So I can say with confidence that this matters greatly to young Democrats."

Feinstein said that she would need to look at Gardner and Warren's cannabis protections bill closely before offering any formal support or sponsorship, leaving plenty of room for the centrist-leaning Democrat to once again revert back to her reefer madness tendencies. But with November's vote quickly approaching, and millions of dollars in tax revenue coming into the Golden State from legal weed sales, it appears that Sen. Feinstein has traded ideas of total prohibition for support of safety, regulation, and accountability.

"My state has legalized marijuana for personal use, and as California continues to implement this law, we need to ensure we have strong safety rules to prevent impaired driving and youth access, similar to other public health issues like alcohol," Feinstein said.

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