There are a lot of reasons that progressives claim California’s very senior Senator Dianne* Feinstein is behind the times and “out of touch” with her state. There’s her reflexive bipartisanship at a time when partisan tensions are very high and resistance to Donald Trump is practically her state’s favorite pastime. There are her hawkish instincts in foreign policy and a tendency to side with law enforcement and intelligence agencies accused of civil liberties violations. And there’s a long history of offenses to lefty sensibilities dating back to her votes for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and for the Iraq War resolution.
But perhaps the most richly symbolic sign of generational issues with Feinstein has arisen from the 84-year-old senator’s staunch opposition to legalization of recreational marijuana use. She was vocally opposed to her state’s 2016 ballot initiative legalizing recreational pot, which passed by a solid 57/43 margin. Worse yet from the point of view of California’s progressives, she has been a foot-dragger in the Senate on efforts to keep federal law enforcement agencies from interfering with legalized marijuana regimes in the states:
In 2015 Feinstein was the sole Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to vote against preventing federal funds from being used to target state-legalized medical marijuana dispensaries. Several Republicans supported the amendment.
And that’s with respect to medical marijuana, which Feinstein has long supported, in contrast to the recreational stuff.
But now, with a left-bent reelection challenge coming from Democratic State Senate leader Kevin de Léon, Feinstein is changing her tune on recreational pot, as McClatchy reports:
In comments to McClatchy Tuesday — in the middle of a 2018 campaign for her seat in a state that has settled into the legal pot market — the California Democrat said she was open to considering federal protection for state-legalized marijuana.
Feinstein’s office said her views changed after meetings with constituents, particularly those with young children who have benefited from medical marijuana use.
“Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law,” said Feinstein.
That’s a principle she didn’t need to learn from “meetings with constituents,” of course, and it’s no longer about medical usages, either. She’s clearly catching up with her party and her state on an issue where a conservative position would have strongly reinforced the “too old and too out of touch” criticism.
Some observers will defend her from election-year-opportunism charges on this issue by suggesting, as McClatchy does, that her reelection is a sure bet:
Feinstein is generally expected to coast to reelection, and Democratic political strategists don’t see opposition as hurting her greatly.
Feinstein is beating her closest opponent, fellow Democrat Kevin de Léon, by 26 points, according to the most recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
But November is a long way away, and in California’s top two primary system, de Léon is almost certain to make the general election field, giving him six months from now to catch up with the incumbent. Whatever else the move represented, it was smart for Feinstein to protect her standing with the younger voters who view legalized marijuana as a no-brainer and opponents as relics from an increasingly distant past.
This piece has been updated with the correct spelling of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s first name.