Not all federal politicians believe that marijuana law reform is a laughing matter.
Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), along with fifteen co-sponsors, have introduced legislation in Congress to critically evaluate America’s drugs and prisons policies.
Senate Bill 714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 seeks to establish a blue-ribbon commission to “undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system; make findings related to current Federal and State criminal justice policies and practices; and make reform recommendations for the President, Congress, and State governments to improve public safety, cost-effectiveness, overall prison administration, and fairness in the implementation of the Nation’s criminal justice system.”
Specifically, the Commission will examine “current drug policy and its impact on incarceration, crime and violence, sentencing, and reentry programs, [including] an analysis of the general availability of drugs in our society, the impact and effectiveness of current policies on reducing that availability and on the incidence of crime, and in the case of criminal offenders, the availability of drug treatment programs before, during, and after incarceration.”
Writing this past weekend in Parade Magazine, Sen. Webb stated:
America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. … The United States has by far the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.
… Drug offenders, most of them passive users or minor dealers, are swamping our prisons. … Justice statistics also show that 47.5% of all the drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses. Additionally, nearly 60% of the people in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or of any significant selling activity. … African-Americans — who make up about 12% of the total U.S. population population — accounted for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.
… It is incumbent on our national leadership to find a way to fix our prison system. I believe that American ingenuity can discover better ways to deal with the problems of drugs and nonviolent criminal behavior while still minimizing violent crime and large-scale gang activity. And we all deserve to live in a country made better by such changes.”
Senator Webb’s analysis is accurate and his advocacy is politically courageous. It’s been many years since any federally appointed commission has taken an objective look at American criminal justice policies, and it’s been nearly 40 years since federal lawmakers have undertaken a critical examination of US marijuana policy.
Webb’s stance is all the more admirable as it comes just days after President Barack Obama and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs found themselves unable to even utter the word ‘marijuana’ without laughing, no less engage in a critical assessment of America’s failed pot policies.
Writing in Salon.com, best-selling author and commentator Glen Greenwald assesses the situation and nails it:
For a Senator like Webb to spend his time trumpeting the evils of excessive prison rates, racial disparities in sentencing, the unjust effects of the Drug War, and disgustingly harsh conditions inside prisons is precisely the opposite of what every single political consultant would recommend that he do.
There’s just no plausible explanation for Webb’s actions other than the fact that he’s engaged in the noblest and rarest of conduct: advocating a position and pursuing an outcome because he actually believes in it and believes that, with reasoned argument, he can convince his fellow citizens to see the validity of his cause.
And he is doing this despite the fact that it potentially poses substantial risks to his political self-interest and offers almost no prospect for political reward. Webb is far from perfect … but, in this instance, not only his conduct but also his motives are highly commendable.
At long last, some ‘change’ in Washington, DC that we can believe in!