Freshman members of United States Congress have been sworn in, and the new class includes the most racially diverse and most female representatives in the more than 200-year history of the House. Of all the freshman generating buzz, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is at the top of the list. All over the political spectrum (PSA: it’s much more nuanced than “right” and “left”), Ocasio-Cortez has been a part of the conversation, whether it be in triumphant praise or stark terror. The self-declared Democratic Socialist isn’t timid about her aspirations to steer Congress in a new direction; she promotes raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, implementing a climate-protecting Green New Deal, and bringing cannabis to federal legality. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez may be the most open and vocal supporter of legalizing marijuana yet and advocates are rejoicing. If you’re a "radical" progressive like the congresswoman from The Bronx, here are some moments that’ll make you say “You down with AOC? Yeah, you know me!”:
The “Tokin’” Friend
Ronald Reagan once said: “Surround yourself with the best people you can find.” So, who better to employ as a senior counsel than the former director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said to be the largest single-issue marijuana policy reform group in the US? In early January, Ocasio-Cortez hired Dan Riffle as an official advisor to a portfolio of issues, not the least including cannabis legalization. Riffle brings a unique perspective to the legalization drawing board. He left MPP in 2014, noting the growing effect that corporate influence is having on the shape of cannabis policy and telling Vox: “We used to talk three or four years ago about how we’re creating this industry, yet nobody gives to MPP. But now that they do give at least a little, it’s like, ‘Be careful what you asked for.’ Because we owe them now, and they get to drive the agenda.” https://t.co/mxxN4UTKVl Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s hiring of Riffle shows how earnest she is about reforming marijuana policy. As the dangers of corporate influence in drafting legislation continue to come to light, Riffle will likely find support in listening to what works best for American people rather than the bottom line for big business. Eyes will certainly be on him to see how he helps drive forward federal legalization.
A Peaceful End to the War on Drugs
Racial disparity has yet to become a forefront issue in marijuana advocacy. The fact remains still that people of color are disproportionately more likely to be arrested for possession of cannabis, and many remain in prison while another state passes marijuana legalization every election cycle. Tackling racial injustice and injustices inflicted upon all those affected by the ineffective War on Drugs is a cornerstone of Ocasio-Cortez’s legalization push. She calls marijuana prohibition a “tool” used to oppress black and brown people, a tool that must be removed. https://t.co/VS27tKqNIA
One night, while cooking black bean soup and streaming on Instagram Live, Ocasio-Cortez casually explained her stance on legalization. Between mincing garlic and responding to comments, she discussed how legalizing and regulating marijuana would also make the product safer. By allowing scientists and doctors easier access to the plant, far superior testing and trials of its effects, benefits and cautions can occur. Ocasio-Cortez’s ability to tap into how to connect with millennials is paramount. It’s an inherent skill that due generational gaps may not come with the typical US congressperson, whose average age was 57-61 years in 2016. Whether or not it comes natural to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (she is a millennial, after all), it’s working. She continues to draw the curtain of Congress back; her IG Stories give a never-before-seen look into the behind-the-scenes of inner workings of Capitol Hill, and that “realness” resonates. Moreover, a 2018 Pew poll shows that 74% of millennials support cannabis legalization, including over half of Republicans, according to Gallup in 2017.
Pass the Dutchie on the Right Hand Side
Nowadays it can seem as if America is as divided as it has ever been, but speaking of connecting with millennials, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have discovered that a peace pipe is what we need to bridge the divide. Fellow millennial and congressman, Republican Matt Gaetz, described by GQ as the “Trumpiest congressman in Trump’s Washington,” expressed his support on Twitter: https://t.co/LqgYnl6rHl Gaetz has a history of supporting legalizing marijuana. He and a Democratic colleague joined together in 2018 on legislation to protect the benefits of veterans who disclose their use of cannabis to VA doctors, and backed the Medical Cannabis Research Act. In 2017, Gaetz said: “[We do not] need to punish the millions of people who are sick and seeking medical help -- from pain, from muscle wasting, from chemotherapy-induced nausea.” While Gaetz may be a rare breed within his party as of now, support continues to rise. Only with bipartisan discussion and negotiation will progress persist. With the constant slew of negative rhetoric circling our political sphere, it’s nice to see a sign of a pulse of unity. Even if that pulse is just a retweet for now. Join the sesh, Rep. Gaetz. All are welcome. @AOC and her freshman congressional class represent a turning point in the Legislative Branch. Those occupying House seats more represent the heterogeneity that makes the United States a unique and singular place. The days of Reefer Madness misinformation continue to fall behind us, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is proving to be a top ally as we await to see what she puts forth in action. Perhaps propose another look at that bipartisan STATES Act?
By RJ Blade
RJ Balde is a freelance writer, host, actor, performer, having worked in cannabis writing and advocacy for the last decade. RJ has worked with numerous organizations and media companies in cannabis writing, show hosting, and advocacy, including Airtime, Eaze, SDA Media, TRICHOMES.com, and WeedTube.