Guest column: Let’s have a rational debate on drug policy, Sen. Grassley
MARNI STEADHAM represents University of Iowa Students For Sensible Drug Policy. Contact: Marni-steadham @uiowa.edu
November 14, 2009 06:22 AM
Our criminal justice system is in dire need of reform. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. With drug offenders accounting for half of federal prisoners and 21 percent of state prisoners, drug incarceration is a major cause of the burgeoning U.S. criminal justice system. Many of those serving time are low-level offenders with no history of violence. In a 2008 Zogby poll, three out of four Americans said the war on drugs is failing. This clear indictment of U.S. drug policy falls directly into the lap of Congress. As a whole, Congress has been hesitant to address the shortcomings of U.S. drug policy because of the perception that it is a controversial and politically damaging issue.
With Congress afraid to touch the issue, the need for an independent commission with full investigative powers is apparent. That’s why Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, and 35 other senators are sponsoring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act (NCJCA) to establish a blue ribbon commission to review our criminal justice system. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley proposed an amendment to the bill that would prevent discussion or even examination of the possibility that drugs, including medical marijuana, should be decriminalized or legalized. Grassley’s weak justification for attempting to suppress these viable policy options is: “The point is, for them to do what we tell them to do.” This assertion undermines the very purpose of the commission: For experts to recommend to the Senate alternatives to our current approach to incarceration, regardless of whether these findings conflict with our current “get-tough” approach.