DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: People may have thought that the legalization of marijuana in two states — Colorado and Washington — in the last election was a high-water mark in the political life of the drug.
They were wrong. Over the last couple of days, marijuana’s impact on the political life of the United States has reached new heights.
Primary, of course, was the announcement Monday by Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. of his initiative to reduce the oversized American prison population by changing the way this Department of Justice deals with lower-level drug offenders (read: marijuana possessors and smokers).
This announcement was surprising on many grounds. It seemingly reversed an intransigentObama administration stance (represented by the DEA and Obama drug czar Gil Kerlikowske) towards medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, as indicated by continuing raids against MM facilities and seeming administration indifference — if not hostility — to the legalization referendums in two states.
Now all of this is seemingly made irrelevant by the fundamental shift in administration thinking on crime and sentencing. (Sidebar: And what has proved more irrelevant — time and again — than the post of Drug Czar and Kerlikowske himself.)
But here’s the thing — the way the administration has chosen to bring about this shift is about as indirect as you can get. Holder ordered federal prosecutors to avoid mandatory sentencing laws for users or possessors by omitting from their charges the quantities of the drug involved that trigger these laws!
My, that is a roundabout way to approach the problem of too many people — particularly minorities — in prisons for simple marijuana possession and use. It involves how prosecutors apply Holders’ directions (which includes interpreting defendants’ prior criminal histories and whether or not — and what it means — for defendants to have “ties” to a gang). And, if the current sentencing imperatives are unjust, what about the tens of thousands of federal inmates already serving their mandatory drug sentences?
How about, instead, decriminalizing marijuana use?
Which brings us to the third event in this sequence of events, which occurred Tuesday in New York City (I’ll return to the second shortly). A lesser-known candidate for New York City’s mayorship, John Liu (the current city comptroller) announced a plan to legalize and tax marijuana.
Wow! Marijuana legalization actually out on the table in New York.
Which is important because of the second event — a decision in New York Monday by a federal judge that the city’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutionally discriminates against minorities.