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Montana Democrats Take Up Policing In New Platform

A grid of faces and names
Montana Democrats listen to a speech during a Zoom session for the party’s platform convention on June 5, 2020.";

The Montana Democratic Party voted to approve a new platform June 5 that references nationwide turmoil over the death of George Floyd in police custody. Most proposals received widespread support, except several tied to recreational marijuana.

Every two years, the party amends its existing platform, which already included positions supporting health care access and gender equality, among other things. After several hours of remote discussion on Friday, more than 120 Democrats voted on updates to individual planks comprising the party’s new platform, under categories like energy and public education.

Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula says shifts in this year’s platform are fairly minor, although she identified several new positions related to policing.

Party members approved new language supporting implicit bias training for officers and opposing unnecessary and dangerous use of force during arrests.

Sands says the Montana police academy and some city departments already offer strong bias and conflict resolution training. As party members debated platform positions on Zoom, however, Sands asserted the timeliness of further criminal justice system review.

“It certainly at least addresses the fact that we recognize what’s going on nationally," Sands said. "And one piece of the action that’s required, only one of them, is that law enforcement bias against people of color and others has to be addressed.”

Most planks received near unanimous support Friday. But, some party members were hung up on proposals supporting recreational marijuana legalization. That was the main debate topic during a Zoom session about the platform’s crime and punishment plank.

Members ultimately approved language supporting recreational cannabis use for people 21 and over, although 27 percent of platform convention attendees voted against the plank containing that idea.

“That’s fine," Sands says. "In fact if we don’t have some disagreements I think then your platform isn’t worth much because it’s not reflecting where the edges of policy really are.”

Count Rep. Kathy Kelker of Billings among the “no” votes. She supports medical marijuana and decriminalization of recreational use, but is concerned about the latter’s potential health impacts on young adults. Kelker says science hasn’t fully examined how marijuana affects brain development in people up to age 26.

“We just have not had very many studies on marijuana, enough to know how safe it is," Kelker said.

Still, Kelker says she’s open to considering recreational marijuana legalization pending more information.

Activists in Montana are currently collecting signatures to place cannabis-related initiatives on the November election ballot.

The state Democratic Party also selected delegates June 6. The Montana Republican Party will hold its delegate convention June 12.