Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and a congresswoman from Florida, recently told Ana Marie Cox of the New York Times that she’s less progressive on marijuana legalization than her fellow partisans.
Explaining her position, she said, “I guess I’m protective. Safety has been my top legislative priority. I’m driven by the idea that safety is really a core function of government.”
But there may be more to Wasserman Schultz’s opinion on marijuana than meets the eye.
Writing at The Intercept, Zaid Jilani points out that Wasserman Schultz counts alcohol PACs among her biggest donors. “The fifth-largest pool of money the congresswoman has collected for her re-election campaign has been from the beer, wine, and liquor industry,” reports Jilani. “The $18,500 came from PACs including Bacardi USA, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Southern Wine & Spirits, and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America,” he adds.
While there’s nothing legally or even morally untoward about a congresswoman receiving campaign money from alcohol interests, money trails such as these can be revealing. As Ben Cohen at U.S. News & World Report noted, “The alcohol and beer industries have…lobbied for years to keep marijuana illegal because they fear the competition that legalized weed would bring.”
Considering that Wasserman Schultz’s primary argument against marijuana legalization is safety, her coziness with the alcohol industry seems hypocritical. As Jilani pointed out, excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for one in 10 deaths among those between the ages of 20 and 64. Marijuana, on the other hand, is the culprit in virtually zero fatalities.
Wasserman Schultz may have a legitimate interest in public safety, clinging to the old-fashioned fear-mongering about marijuana that has long gripped her congressional colleagues. As she told Cox, “My criminal-justice record is perhaps not as progressive as some of my fellow progressives’,” a fair point to concede.
But with data on the dangers of marijuana versus alcohol staring her in the face, coupled with the money she receives from the latter industry, observers aren’t wrong to suspect there are issues of cronyism at play.
Perhaps one day, Wasserman Schultz will join the 64 percent of Democrats who believe marijuana should be legalized. In the meantime, it doesn’t look like she’ll be returning any of those alcohol PAC donations, despite her deep concerns about public safety.