The following piece is part of an ongoing series of OffTheBus reports by citizen policy experts critiquing different aspects of Campaign 08.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has been getting a lot of respect from critics of Marijuana Prohibition, and it's easy to see why.
First, Richardson made news this year by becoming the second governor to support and sign medical marijuana legislation, making New Mexico the 12th medical marijuana state. ("My God, let's be reasonable," he said at the time). He generated even more publicity in August when he faced off with the Bush administration over the plan's implementation. And he's had the guts to tell New Hampshire voters like me "The 'War on Drugs' is not working."
So when Manchester activist Phillip Allen wanted to meet Richardson Oct. 20 at J.W. Hill's Sports Bar and Grille on Elm Street, I was happy to tag along with my borrowed camera and capture the encounter. I knew Phillip would use his chance to ask a tough but fair drug policy question for SendTheRightMessage.com, and I hoped for an illuminating answer.
Richardson is a world-class handshaker, an approachable, look-you-in-the-eye kind of guy, and Phillip had no trouble at all getting his attention. So here's the play-by-play:
Allen: I've heard that you've said that you don't believe Richard Nixon's 'War on Drugs' is working. Other than medical marijuana, what can we do to reduce our prison population of 2.3 million people... of nonviolent criminals?
Richardson: More treatment, more education, more jobs programs in prisons. In addition to that... I would make medical marijuana national. It makes sense.
Allen: I know Chris Dodd supports decrim. Why do you disagree with him on that?
Richardson: On medical marijuana?
Allen: No, on marijuana decriminalization.
Richardson: Are you sure he does?
Allen: That's what I heard.
Richardson: I don't think so.... I can't support that yet, but the 'War on Drugs' is failing. I would reduce our international commitments.
For the record, here's the Sept. 13 exchange between Senator Chris Dodd and Bill Maher that had not come to Richardson's attention:
Maher: Sen. Dodd, between illnesses, accidents, homicides, and suicides, it's been estimated that America suffers roughly 100,000 alcohol-related deaths per year. Marijuana kills virtually no one, and yet, it is such a third rail in American politics to suggest we stop persecuting the people who wish to use this more-benign but no-less-mood-altering and no-more-of-a-gateway drug. Can you give me a good reason why, in a free and fair society, marijuana should be illegal?
Dodd: Well, Bill, I've taken the position, certainly with medical use of marijuana, that it ought to be allowed. And many states, I think 12 or 13 states allow that today. In fact, we just had a huge debate in the committee in which I serve dealing with the issue. And I've strongly advocated that these states not be biased or prejudiced because they allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. And again, the overall of general of allowing the decriminalization, I strongly advocate as well. We're cluttering up our prisons, frankly, when we draw distinctions. And let me go beyond marijuana here in terms of crack cocaine or powder cocaine, where we have differentials in prison sentences here. So I would decriminalize, or certainly advocate as president, the decriminalization of statutes that would incarcerate or severely penalize people for using marijuana. But I want to be careful, and I know there are a lot of people across the political spectrum who would just totally legalize it. I don't go that far. But certainly in the areas I've mentioned to you here, I think, certainly, are steps that move in that direction.