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Marc Caputo, Politico
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s interest in running for U.S. Senate has encountered strong resistance from a traditional ally of her party: medical marijuana activists.
Because of her congressional votes and her criticisms of a Florida medical marijuana initiative last year, four political groups that advocate prescription cannabis and drug decriminalization vowed to campaign against the Florida representative if she were to seek a Senate seat in 2016.
“She’s voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we’re certainly going to make sure Floridians know that — not to mince words,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance, which has received funding from liberal luminaries such as George Soros.
“This issue is evolving very quickly, and hopefully she will evolve,” Piper said. “But if she doesn’t, you can expect medical marijuana patients and supporters to dog her on the campaign trail.”
Wasserman Schultz’s office declined to comment.
The threats from Piper’s group — echoed by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida and the national Marijuana Policy Project and Americans for Safe Access — marked the only major public reaction to the news, first reported by POLITICO, that Wasserman Schultz might leave her safe South Florida congressional seat. She is said to be considering a Senate bid if Republican Sen. Marco Rubio relinquishes his seat to run for president.
“There’s no ‘Run Debbie Run’ caucus,” said one Florida Democratic consultant who has worked with her. “I don’t say that to be mean, but she’s not a statewide candidate for us. She’s a very good congresswoman and I hope she stays there.”
Last year, Wasserman Schultz ran afoul of one major Florida donor, Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, after she issued a statement criticizing the medical marijuana initiative he helped draft and fund with about $4 million of his own money through his People United political group.
“Other states have shown that lax oversight and ease of access to prescriptions can lead to abuse, fraud, and accidents,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement that likened medical marijuana dispensaries to Oxycontin “pill mills” — a GOP talking point.
Morgan reacted furiously, saying Wasserman Schultz’s decision to trash his amendment was an example of why she’s “despised” in top Democratic circles.
Wasserman Schultz issued the statement after another medical-marijuana group, Americans for Safe Access, released a web ad targeting her for being one of 18 House Democrats to oppose an amendment designed to stop the federal government from enforcing marijuana laws in marijuana decriminalization states.
One of the U.S. House Democrats who voted for the amendment, Rep. Patrick Murphy, is expected to soon announce his intentions to seek the Senate, whether Rubio leaves the seat or not.
The founder and executive director of Americans for Safe Access, Steph Sherer, said her group will likely become politically active in the election if Wasserman Schultz runs.
“She has a horrific voting record and people should know about it” Sherer said. “But she still has time to become enlightened.”
Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Wasserman Schultz’s voting record and position on medical marijuana was puzzling because she recently voted to protect Washington’s marijuana decriminalization effort.
“Apparently she thinks D.C. ought to be able to fully legalize marijuana, but doesn’t think her own constituents should even be able to make marijuana available to sick people for medical purposes,” Riffle said.
Florida’s medical marijuana proposal last year garnered 57.6 percent of the vote, short of the 60 percent threshold required to approve a constitutional amendment in Florida. Morgan’s group is already gathering voter signatures and plans to try again in 2016, unless the GOP-led Legislature acts, which it likely won’t.
“This will be a major campaign issue and I think disqualifies her from the nomination,” Morgan said by email, comparing the issue to gay marriage, which is far less popular in polls.
“A United States senator from the Democratic Party should be in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana as a base test. Debbie is more severe,” he said. “Her position denies terminally ill and chronically ill people compassion. She was an anomaly among [Democrats]. The war on drugs was lost about the same time we lost the Vietnam War. Generations have been arrested, jailed and careers and dreams lost forever.”
Republicans relish the idea of the liberal Wasserman Schultz running statewide in a purple state like Florida.
“There are a lot of easy one liners and cheap shots that come to mind, but at this point I don’t want to do or say anything that would discourage her from running,” said Brian Burgess, a Tallahassee Republican consultant. “A lot of Republicans would be sorely disappointed if she got drummed out of the race this early.”