The congresswoman's office may downplay her position, but Debbie Wasserman Schultz's opposition to medical marijuana makes her the highest profile Democrat in Florida to take such a stand.
And now at least one marijuana legalization proponent fears the chairwoman of the National Democratic Committee, fast friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, could influence Hillary Clinton to maintain a hard line on the weed if she makes it all the way to the White House in 2016.
Earlier in the month the usually progressive Wasserman Schultz broke ranks with fellow Democrats, voting against allowing federal doctors to discuss medical marijuana with patients.
In a story in the Washington Times, she called the move "premature."
It seemed an odd stance. The party-line liberal was one of just 18 House Dems to join 204 Republicans. And the vote was aimed specifically at authorizing Veterans Administration doctors in states that have approved marijuana for medical or recreational use -- including her own home state of Florida -- to talk to patients about the drug.
Sunshine State News tried to reach her last week, then left questions about her position on the medical marijuana bill just passed in the state Legislature and Amendment 2 on the November ballot. SSN received no reply by Friday evening, though one of her staffers indicated she is not anxious to discuss the issue.
The reason she gave for siding with Republicans was because she is waiting for the results of a medical study on using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
There was a study that was just commissioned to review the effectiveness marijuana has on PTSD patients. So I thought it was premature to adopt that amendment before the results of the study, Wasserman Schultz said during a breakfast meeting with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
She insisted the legislation narrowly addressed the treatment of service members suffering from PTSD. It was for PTSD, she said.
But Tom Angell, founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority, a legalization advocacy group, responded with disappointment, saying he doesn't buy it:"It's shocking that the chair of the DNC would stand with so many Republicans in voting to censor doctors from discussing medical marijuana with U.S. military veterans who are seeking relief for their pain.
"This vote from someone who is supposed to be a shrewd political operator is made all the more inexplicable by the fact that poll after poll shows voters in her state favor medical marijuana by huge margins," Angell said. "She's way behind the times on this, and she's going to find that out in November, when Florida voters overwhelmingly pass the medical marijuana initiative that's on the ballot."
"Veterans Affairs has made it clear they don't want any doctors inside the system recommending cannabis," says Michael Krawitz, the executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, who was injured while serving in the Air Force in Guam in the 1980s. "The VA's general counsel has weighed in on this and said the DEA has been right on their shoulder, essentially threatening the VA that if doctors recommend cannabis, they'd be aiding and abetting criminals. And since VA doctors don't have free speech, they are in no position to argue."
On his website Vice, Matt Taylor said he did get an answer -- of sorts -- out of Wasserman Schultz's office, stating "why a leader of the nation's premier center-left party would vote against something like this."
This is the written statement sent to Taylor from Sean Bartlett, her spokesman: Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz felt that it was premature to vote for such an amendment given that HHS has approved a new study to look at marijuanas potential effects on PTSD. While there is evidence that medical marijuana is effective in providing relief in some medical conditions, the congresswoman looks forward to the results of that study before making a policy determination.
Taylor said in his May 5 story, "Why won't the U.S. Government let veterans smoke weed," " ... Wasserman Schultz is going to have the ear of Clinton if and when she becomes the Democratic Party's 2016 nominee. Given the former secretary of state's tendency to embrace the safe, establishment course rather than stake out new territory, one can't help but wonder if Wasserman Schultz's vote is an indication of what to expect from a President Clinton (Part II) when it comes to drug policy."
NORML, a Washington, D.C.-based tracking group working since 1990 to reform marijuana laws, rates Wasserman Schultz a -10,indicating she maintains a "hard-on-drugs" stance when she votes in the House.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.