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Jim Webb's Quest to Reform the War on Drugs Gains Momentum

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The Washington Post has a long and rather glowing examination of Virginia Senator Jim Webb's effort to reform U.S. drug policy and the criminal justice system:

"I am, at bottom, a writer," he says, invoking his default response. "I start with a theme, rather than a plot." Webb wants to shape a plotline that, with each turn of the page, draws America closer to reinventing its criminal justice system. Questioning why the United States locks up so many of its youths, why its prisons swell with disease and atrocities while fundamental social problems persist in its streets, has earned Webb lavish praise as a politician unafraid to be smeared as soft on crime. And when a law-and-order type as rock-ribbed as Webb expresses willingness to consider legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, excitement follows.  

Indeed it does. The whole article is worth reading, as it really captures the energy that's beginning to build behind Webb's efforts. There's nothing surprising about this to anyone who's been paying attention to the drug policy debate that has been escalating for years and erupting in recent months.

Still, even The Washington Post itself has been slow to grasp the potency of Webb's call for reform. Last December, The Post published a similarly lengthy account of Jim Webb's quest to reform criminal justice policies, but that article portrayed him as a crazy idealist stepping into political hot water:

"It is a gamble for Webb, a fiery and cerebral Democrat from a staunchly law-and-order state."

"…as the country struggles with two wars overseas and an ailing economy, overflowing prisons are the last thing on many lawmakers' minds."

"…Webb has never been one to rely on polls or political indicators to guide his way."

"Some say Webb's go-it-alone approach could come back to haunt him."

And yet The Post is now reporting that Webb's efforts are gaining support, including "encouraging signals" from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and even President Obama. The Post's earlier suggestion that Webb's efforts could alienate him were based on the same "soft-on-crime" political theory that we've been hearing for two decades now. The second they got wind of Webb's criminal justice reform proposal, they interviewed a bunch of people about what a maverick he is and how his ideas are so unique. The whole thing reeked of the implication that only a strange politician would care about improving our criminal justice system.

To be fair, yes, Jim Webb is a bit of a maverick and clearly his plan is unique. I don't fault The Post for making Webb's personality part of the story. But it didn't make sense to frame criminal justice reform as a fringe idea and it's not at all surprising that The Post is now forced to concede Webb's political savvy. Obama spoke on the campaign trail about "shifting the model" in the war on drugs, and while that was hardly the defining issue of his candidacy, it was utterly uncontroversial throughout the campaign. It's a simple fact that criminal justice reform, including discussion of reexamining drug laws, is a perfectly legitimate and mainstream political topic that any politician can approach without inviting any consequential backlash.

One of the most immediate and intrinsically valuable aspects of Webb's effort is precisely that it serves as a mechanism for illustrating the importance of this discussion. I don't doubt that it will become controversial (if our drug policy truly faces due scrutiny as Webb intends), but by the time that happens, he will have firmly established the principle that debating criminal justice policies is a relevant and necessary exercise at this moment in American politics. If we can reach a point at which the media coverage is focused on the issue, rather than the personality quirks of Jim Webb himself, that's when we'll know his efforts are paying off.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Showing support for S.714 is vital for it to succeed

As someone who has been active in drug policy issues, I am thrilled to have a Senator like Jim Webb to lead the charge for reforming our criminal justice and drug policy systems.Webb embodies the qualities of an effective advocate with his skills as a writer and orator. He isn't perceived by his peers as a soft-on-crime bleeding heart liberal. I can't think of a better character to lead our cause. I urge those of you interested in seeing Senator Webb's bill pass, to actively write your elected representatives in Washington to illustrate the support of the public. Go to their websites and stress the importance of getting on board with S.714.

With all of the other unrelated issues dominating the news coverage, S.714 needs all the publicity it can get. Write letters to the editor or op-ed pieces in your local paper. All too often, drug reformers don't utilize their influence in the form of an organized campaign. S.714 has great potential in bringing the debate of drug policy to a new level. Congress can pass draconian drug laws in five minutes without holding any hearings. It has taken over twenty years to attempt to repeal or modify these laws. Senator Webb has given our movement legislation to focus on and be excited about. It's up to us to spread that excitement into the public consciousness.

Drug Policy Reform Battles American Fascism

Senator Jim Webb’s desire to fix the U.S. justice system faces the same uphill battle against Big Pharma, the judicial industrial complex and political corruption that has plagued the efforts of drug law reform from the beginning.

What Senator Webb confronts can best be summed up in a recent piece by Thom Hartmann who quotes Vice President Henry A. Wallace (VP under Franklin Roosevelt) on the subject of fascism from a 1944 New York Times article in which Wallace appears as if he is describing the ONDCP and DEA:

"…With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."

"American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information...."

"Fascism is a worldwide disease…[its] greatest threat to the United States will come after the war…within the United States itself."

The fascists “claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."


The tangled weaves of Webb

Webb's legislation has merit, of course. But one must not forget that the process, even if it leads to substantive reform - a very big if - will run around 24 months. And during that time more than 1.5 million individuals, mostly younger ones, will be arrested for the simple possession of marijuana and thrust into the same dysfunctional criminal justice system Webb is charged to reform. Are they just collateral damage, a cost of doing business while we wait on S-714?

President Obama should remove all federal prohibitions against the cultivation and possession of small amounts of marijuana, sparing these 1.5 million individuals and their families emotional and financial trauma. Anything less is an abdication of campaign promises and puts the lie to his belief in science over ideology.

Pass HR 2835 - Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act

Please write a letter to your Congressmen asking for them to co-sponser this bill. This bill has been referred to the House Committee on energy and Commerce, so especailly send out letters to the memebers of this committee.

Will this be the year that sensible marijuana policies can be made? With your help this bill can become a reality.

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