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Webb Crime Bill Moving In House

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The House of Representatives will be taking up a companion version of a popular Senate bill intended to overhaul the American criminal justice system, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) told the Huffington Post on Wednesday.

The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Jim Webb and would create a commission to make recommendations on the reform of everything from sentencing to drug policy. Everything, Webb has said, would be on the table.

Delahunt, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said that reform of the American justice system should begin with a broad look at drug policy.

"I think it's really time to do an absolute overview of the issue of drugs and come at it with an open mind," he said.

The bill, he said, "would create a commission of respected individuals in the field with a time frame for review. This deals with gang violence and everything else, but clearly, as you continue to peel back the problems, dealing with crime in this country, and particularly violent crime, the one common nexus is drugs. So you've gotta take a hard look at that."

Delahunt is a former prosecutor from Massachusetts. Asked how his experience as a prosecutor shapes his thinking on drug legalization, he turned the question around.

"I mean, how long have we been waging the war on drugs?" he said.

Forty years?

"Is it working?" he asked.

Webb's bill was heard on June 11th in Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-Penn.) Crime and Drugs Subcommittee and is moving quickly. It now boasts 30 cosponsors, including Specter and the Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), also a former prosecutor.

The top four Democratic leaders -- Sens. Harry Reid (Nev.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) -- have signed on. It has Republican backing from conservative Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both influential voices on the Judiciary Committee, as well as moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

"We've got a good chance to get this done this year," said Webb when he introduced the bill. "I'm very concerned about the issue of gangs and transnational gangs and I think a big piece of that -- not all of it -- a big piece of that is the movement of drugs."

Ryan Grim's book, This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America, is now on sale


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