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Drug Policy: Time For A New Era?

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Jim Webb Says America’s Justice System Is Broken and Drug Policy Is Largely to Blame; Is Portugal’s Liberal Approach a Model?

  • By Ken Millstone
    • The last few months are
      The last few months are “the first time I’ve ever felt that the wind is at my back and not in my face” when it comes to drug policy reform, said Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “There’s a tremendous amount of momentum across the board.”  (CBS)
    • Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., calls America's criminal justice system
      Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., calls America’s criminal justice system “a national disgrace” and says that reforming drug policy is part of the solution.  (CBS)

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  • Video Medical Marijuana ReformThe Obama administration has unveiled a new set of more relaxed policies concerning medical marijuana use. Bill Whitaker reports on the potential impact of this reform in Los Angeles.

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This story was written by Ken Millstone as part of a special report on the evolving debate over marijuana legalization in the U.S. Click here for more of the series, Marijuana Nation: The New War Over Weed.

Ethan Nadelmann is feeling good. Really good.

As the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Nadelmann has long advocated for the liberalization of U.S. drug laws — specifically, making marijuana legal, regulated and taxed and ending criminal penalties on the possession and use of all other drugs.

For most of that time the Alliance has been relegated to the fringe of serious policy discussions, a space long occupied – or so the stereotype goes – by radical libertarians and readers of the marijuana enthusiast magazine High Times.

But things are changing. The last few months are “the first time I’ve ever felt that the wind is at my back and not in my face,” Nadelmann said. “There’s a tremendous amount of momentum across the board.”

Consider the developments of the last year. In March, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb introduced a bill calling for a wholesale overhaul of the criminal justice system in the United States. Our system is cripplingly large, he argued, and marred by wrongful incarcerations, poor rehabilitative treatment and mental health care and a price tag of $44 billion a year on prisons alone.

Webb called the situation a “national disgrace,” and said the elephant in the room is sky-high incarceration rates for drug users due to the U.S.’s 40-year-old War on Drugs.

California, the first state to make marijuana legal for medical use, is considering a bill to legalize and tax marijuana for all residents; it had its first hearing in the state assembly last week. Massachusetts voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The attorney general of Arizona has said that legal marijuana might be an answer to the Mexican drug cartel violence spilling over into his state.

Breckenridge Votes to Legalize Pot

And a Gallup poll released last month shows that support for national marijuana legalization has climbed steadily since the early 1980s, recently hitting an all-time high of 44 percent.

“That is the most extraordinary poll result as I have seen in all my years working in this,” Nadelmann said. “We haven’t changed our position, but we are basically more and more part of the mainstream discussion.” He likens the situation to movements like gay rights and civil rights that made rapid strides in relatively short periods.

“We’re getting awfully close to something that looks a lot like a tipping point,” he said.


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