Jim Webb acknowledges that marijuana legalization should be on the table

I argued yesterday that Jim Webb’s proposed commission on prison reform could be the first step to ending the drug war. Now Jim Webb has confirmed that he’s open to all possible outcomes regarding drug policies.

“I think everything should be on the table, and we specifically say that we want recommendations on how to deal with drug policy in our country. And we’ll get it to the people who have the credibility and the expertise and see what they come up with,” said Webb.

What about legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana?

Webb paused. “I think they should do a very careful examination of all aspects of drug policy. I’ve done a couple of very extensive hearings on this, so we’ll wait to see what they say about that,” he said.

So it’s on the table? Webb flashed a wry grin, laughing mischievously.

The last government study group to look at drug policy, the 1972 Shafer Commission, recommended that President Richard Nixon decriminalize marijuana. He didn’t.

Jim Webb is a serious guy with impeccable military credentials. He’s not someone who can be pushed around by the “law and order” crowd. Proponents of legalization or decriminalization want this to happen overnight, but they are not being realistic. A thorough study by experts will give politicians cover as they try to deal with this political minefield.

At the very least, advocates of reform should be pushing the feds to leave regulation of marijuana to the states. This will make it much easier to get sensible policies, as progressive states like California and Massachusetts lead the way.


Ending the Rockefeller Drug Laws

New York State might finally repeal the idiotic Rockefeller drug laws.

The Rockefeller drug laws is the term used to denote the statutes dealing with the sale and possession of “narcotic” drugs in the New York State Penal Law. The laws are named after Nelson Rockefeller, who was the state’s governor at the time the laws were adopted. Rockefeller, a staunch supporter of the bill containing the laws, signed it on May 8, 1973.

Under the Rockefeller drug laws, the penalty for selling two ounces (approximately 56 grams) or more of heroin, morphine, “raw or prepared opium,” cocaine, or cannabis, including marijuana (these latter two being included in the statute even though they are not “narcotics” from a chemical standpoint), or possessing four ounces (approximately 113 grams) or more of the same substances, was made the same as that for second-degree murder: a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. The original legislation also mandated the same penalty for committing a violent crime while under the influence of the same drugs, but this provision was subsequently omitted from the bill and was not part of the legislation Rockefeller ultimately signed. The section of the laws applying to marijuana was repealed in 1979, under the Democratic Governor Hugh Carey.

The New York Times has an editorial arguing for the repeal of the laws.

After 35 years of filling the state’s prisons with drug offenders who needed treatment and disproportionately punishing poor and minority offenders, New York is on the verge of dismantling its infamous Rockefeller drug laws. To get there, Gov. David Paterson and some prosecutors will have to drop their objections to a reasonable provision on second-time offenders.

The Assembly voted last week to restore judicial discretion and end mandatory sentencing for many nonviolent low-level drug crimes. The bill, which has been introduced in the State Senate as well, would limit the longstanding and widely discredited system under which prosecutors decide who goes to jail and for how long.

Once the measure becomes law, courts would be able to sentence many addicts to treatment instead of cramming them into prisons where addiction generally goes untreated.

Republican senators who represent prison districts have long obstructed reforms like these. The latest attempt seems likely to succeed now that Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature — if Assembly lawmakers can broker a deal with the governor and some prosecutors in the state.

The last paragraph struck me. It’s stunning that Republican politicians blocked reform of these laws just to keep prison populations high to protect prison jobs in their districts. Disgusting.

All around the country, our prisons are bursting and states are going broke. We need to stop locking up non-violent offenders and focus on violent criminals.


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