It has been suggested -- by a majority of California voters -- that Dianne Feinstein has served long enough in the U.S. Senate. Some thought it was time for some new blood; others thought she is simply too old to keep in touch with one of the nation's most forward-looking, youth-oriented states. These days that latter opinion applies to Feinstein's continuing opposition to the legalization of marijuana, something that most Americans believe is inevitable, as does California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.
Feinstein and fellow Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recently sent letters to top Obama administration officials decrying what they view as the White House's leniency on pot. "The administration should account for remarks and policies that send a message of tolerance for illegal drugs," Grassley said in a separate statement.
"Feinstein declined to discuss the letters, which reflect a sentiment that is going out of style back home," notes Evan Halper of The Times.
Note to politicians: Expressing opinions wildly divergent from those of your constituents is not the typical path to follow. According to the polls, up to 60% of Californians favor outright legalization, not merely decriminalization.
Halper writes: "Feinstein's position on pot is in sync with her strident support for law enforcement, dating to her time at the center of San Francisco politics amid the social turmoil of the 1960s and '70s. It was then that she sat on the California Women's Board of Terms and Parole, where she saw that the drug contributed to wrecked lives, she recently told the Associated Press. 'I saw a lot of where people began with marijuana and went on to hard drugs,' Feinstein said."
I've seen the same phenomenon. But I've also known potheads who never graduated to cocaine or meth or anything else more serious. It's like alcohol. Some people can handle it, some people can't. These things are complicated.
For what it's worth, the president of the United States thinks pot is no more dangerous than booze.
What prompts me to poke fun at Feinstein's anti-marijuana stance is that she is relying on facts and an experience that's half a century old. Pot has changed a lot since the 1980s, much less the 1960s. It's stronger, less likely to be laced with other narcotics and, when sold in dispensaries, of higher quality than the barely-above-oregano stuff that my college classmates used to score in the barrio in upper Manhattan. It's entirely possible that marijuana is more dangerous than it used to be. I don't know. And neither does Feinstein.
And that is the point. If you're going to serve as a powerful senator, you owe your constituents your best-faith effort to educate yourself about issues of interest and concern to the people of your state. Don't drag out old cautionary tales from “after-school specials” from the hippie days.
And if you do, don't expect anyone to take you seriously.
Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall