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The Heritage Foundation’s Dishonest Attack on Vanita Gupta

Vanita Gupta

Charles Stimson at the Heritage Foundation is opposed to President Obama nomination of Vanita Gupta to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. While it is fine to disagree with a person’s policy position or oppose their nomination, his dishonest attempt to distort the facts is unacceptable. From his article in the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal:

Yet just last week the current Democratic Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, said that legalizing recreational use of marijuana was a “reckless.” And there is a growing body of evidence to prove his point: (1) pot-positive auto fatalities have gone up 100 percent in 2012, the year the state legalized pot; (2) the majority of DUI drug arrests involve marijuana and 25 to 40 percent were pot alone; (3) from 2011 through 2013 there was a 57 percent increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits–and there are many other indications of failure. New research, from a 20-year study, proves the dangers of marijuana.

But Gupta does not stop with marijuana. In calling for all drugs to be decriminalized–essentially legalizing all dangerous drugs–Gupta displays a gross lack of understanding of the intrinsic dangers of these drugs when consumed in any quantity.

First, the line about a pot-positive test in 2012 is doubly dishonest. Given that marijuana metabolites remain in the body for potentially weeks after use, this statistic tells more about the increase in overall testing than any impact on driver safety. More importantly, even though marijuana possession was technically legalized in Colorado in 2012, it didn’t go into effect until December 10th, way too late in the year to make a real impact on statistics for the year. So even if it was a good data point, this would still be a very deceptive way of using it in the argument.

Even worse is Stimson’s pathetic attempt to distort Gupta’s position by claiming decriminalization of drugs is “essentially legalizing” them. Either this is an active attempt to divide the public, or a depressing inability to understand a very basic legal distinction from a self-proclaimed ‘leading expert in criminal law.’

What Gupta wrote was, “Decriminalize/”Defelonize” Drug Possession. States should decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, particularly marijuana, and for small amounts of other drugs.” Decriminalization is merely reducing some of the harsh penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs, but that is not the same as legalization. Under decriminalization, the drug is still illegal to possess or sell. There are still punishments for possession, just ones less draconian and costly for the government; fines and possibly mandatory treatment instead of incarceration.

Legalization on the other hand is making a drug completely legal for adults to use and possess. In the context of drug policy debates, the term almost always also includes establishing a regulated system for adults to be able to legally purchase it.

According to Stimson’s twisted logic, marijuana is already essentially legal over a dozens states, including Mississippi where possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in 1978 and is punishable with a $250 fine. I suspect the people in Mississippi would laugh in the face of anyone trying to make the claim marijuana is “legal” in their state.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at http://pendinghorizon.com

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