Thursday, August 29, 2013

VIDEO: Maryland Juice Blogger David Moon Asks Doug Gansler About Drug War // PLUS: Obama Changes Tune on Marijuana

UPDATE: Maryland Juice must have a good read on where progressive policy is headed, because The Washington Post reported today that the Obama administration will not fight states that have legalized marijuana distribution (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: The Obama administration on Thursday said it will not stand in the way of Colorado, Washington and other states where voters have supported legalizing marijuana either for medical or recreational use, as long as those states maintain strict rules involving distribution of the drug.

In a memo sent Thursday to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole detailed the administration’s new stance.... The memo directs federal prosecutors to focus their resources on eight specific areas of enforcement, rather than targeting individual marijuana users, which even President Obama has acknowledged is not the best use of federal manpower. Those areas include preventing distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing the sale of pot to cartels and gangs, preventing sales to other states where the drug remains illegal under state law, and stopping the growing of marijuana on public lands....
BACKGROUND: About two weeks ago, Maryland Juice attended a Montgomery County forum with Attorney General Doug Gansler on transportation issues. This was only one day after Gansler had been roundly criticized in the media for implying that Lt. Governor Anthony Brown's campaign was focused on the color of the candidate's skin. But rather than pile-on the follow-up coverage of the remarks, I decided to pursue a more substantive line of questioning for Doug Gansler on race issues in Maryland.

At the August 13th forum with Gansler, I had the perfect opportunity to jump into the conversation, when an audience member started asking Gansler about U.S. DOJ Chief Eric Holder's recent decision to focus on addressing the issue of mass incarceration. Indeed, Holder recently announced a new effort to reform mandatory minimum sentencing rules and use of prosecutorial discretion. Gansler's response to the audience member focused on his newly announced effort to facilitate the re-entry of prisoners into the civilian population, so I decided to ask a follow-up question.

THE PERILS OF SMOKING WHILE BLACK IN MARYLAND - It seemed to me that Gansler's focus on re-entry issues was only 1/4 of a response to the problem of mass incarceration, as re-entry deals with people leaving prison, without addressing whether these non-violent offenders should be incarcerated in the first place.  I've been noting for months that it is impossible to tackle America's lust for imprisoning the poor and people of color without addressing our decades-long failed "War on Drugs" policy advanced through Presidents ranging from Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and now Obama. Though Democratic policymakers around the nation have begun aggressively attacking this problem at its roots, Maryland Democrats have ordinarily dragged their feet on such issues.  The result is a cost of nearly $200 million a year to prosecute marijuana crimes in Maryland, and the U.S. now has the world's largest prison population -- despite having a much smaller population than say, China. Even worse, the ACLU recently reported that black residents of Maryland are over 3 times more likely than white residents to be busted for pot crimes -- despite equal rates of use between the races.

Below you can watch an exclusive video of Doug Gansler's response to a problem that the ACLU has dubbed "Smoking While Black." In the comments below, Gansler states: "It's a real issue and the whole marijuana issue has been dealt with I think appropriately, differently in many states. Where we go with that here, I think we're actually taking a very good approach to it in my own personal view. But the racial component is something that should always be of concern... We have to have a full understanding that it's disproportionately affecting minority communities."

Let's see if Attorney General Doug Gansler (and other gubernatorial candidates) will walk the talk when the issue emerges again in the next legislative session.

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