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Marijuana Decrim Stance Could Boost Dodd

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The following piece was produced by the Huffington Post's OffTheBus.

Senator Chris Dodd is not usually characterized as a maverick politician, but his outspoken support for decriminalizing marijuana has recently distinguished him from the other Democratic presidential hopefuls. Dodd's position prompted a question from Tim Russert at the MSNBC Democratic debate Oct. 30, and when Russert asked other candidates to raise their hands if they disagreed, only Dennis Kucinich kept his hand down. (Former Senator Mike Gravel, a legalization advocate, was excluded from this debate.)

Russert selected John Edwards to explain why he wouldn't decriminalize, and he answered with the standard nonsense: "Because I think it sends the wrong signal to young people, and I think the president of the United States has the responsibility to ensure that we're sending the right signals to young people."

Dodd was not acknowledged for an answer, but jumped into the fray. "Can I respond, I mean just why I think it ought to be?" he asked. "We're locking up too many people in our system here today," he said. "We've got mandatory minimum sentences that are filling our jails with people who don't belong there... We've got to get a lot smarter about this issue than we are, and as president, I'd try to achieve that."

The entire exchange lasted just under a minute, but hey, that's a minute more than the issue received in all the 2003-2004 debates, when marijuana policy was never mentioned. It would have been nice to see each candidate take 30 seconds to explain why he or she approves of a federal drug policy under which over half the arrests (830,000 in 2007) are for marijuana, a simple plant many doctors and scientists say is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

As the incarceration rate continues to rise, it's inevitable that some year, candidates for office will all have to explain their drug policy reform prescriptions to get elected. That day hasn't arrived yet, but until it comes, activists like Phillip Allen in New Hampshire are taking it upon themselves to ask candidates about Marijuana Prohibition. Allen caught up with Dodd Nov. 3 on the front lawn of the State House in Concord, where Dodd had just spoken at a rally. It was rainy, and the coldest day yet this autumn, but it wasn't too cold for Dodd to roll his eyes at his opponents.

Here's the transcript:

Allen: I saw in the debates that you are for decrim and I was wondering why you think all the other candidates are afraid to raise the issue?

Dodd: Not much courage there, are they? Aren't they satisfied we're clogging our prison system? That's ridiculous.

Allen: And what do you think the... Edwards said that it sends the wrong message to children.

Dodd: What, filling our jails is a good message? Ha.

Could this be the issue that helps spark Dodd's campaign? Or will Democratic voters continue to reward candidates who support Richard Nixon's war against citizens who make unapproved recreational or medicinal choices?

More broadly, will the media recognize that this is an issue where there are important differences between the candidates? Will marijuana policy reform ever receive an adequate discussion, or was it only worth a minute of our time?