Likely presidential candidate Jim Webb said Tuesday the U.S. should decriminalize drugs and treat them like cigarettes.
Webb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia, delivered the remarks at the National Sheriffs’ Association Conference in Baltimore in front of approximately 100 sheriffs.
“With respect to the overcrowding, the other area, and kind of the elephant in the bedroom here that we don’t talk about enough is the number of people who are incarcerated for drug offenses… There have got to be better ways for us to approach the issues of drug use in America,” Webb stated.
“One of the most fascinating changes in our society in my adult lifetime has been the approach towards cigarette smoking,” he added. “If you think about this, we didn’t make cigarettes illegal. We just got the information out there and educated people about the potential harm… And that is actually a success of education regarding your health more than punitive law per se. And there have to be similar approaches when it comes to drug use.”
While it isn’t clear whether he supports full drug legalization, his statements amount to an incredible push for reform relative to other candidates seeking the 2016 Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton wants to wait and see the results of marijuana legalization in Colorado before making a definitive pronouncement on the issue. Bernie Sanders thinks the drug war is a failure and hinted at support for marijuana decriminalization but did not specifically endorse a policy, though he has signed his name to legislation which would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug.
Webb’s remarks, however, caught the attention of marijuana advocacy groups.
“The American experience with tobacco shows that a successful public health approach to drugs doesn’t involve handcuffs and jail cells,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The fact that a likely presidential candidate like Jim Webb is saying this publicly — in front of a group of cops, no less — shows just how far the politics of drug policy reform have shifted in recent years. Polling now shows that most Americans think the drug war is a failure and support legalizing marijuana.”
This isn’t his first attempt at criminal reform. Back in his days as a senator, Webb tried to push through a prison reform commission tasked with introducing legislative proposals to reduce incarceration rates and prison violence. Other senators killed the idea before it got off the ground.
On Tuesday, Webb noted that he’d make a final decision about whether to run for president in the next several days.