On Thursday, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb entered the 2016 presidential race as the fifth Democratic candidate. As a Marine Corps veteran, Webb has a surprisingly liberal stance on weed, probably the most liberal of any of his competitors. While serving as a U.S. senator, Webb dedicated much of his time and energy to criminal justice reform and supports decriminalizing drugs in order to help diminish America's mass incarceration problem.
None of the other Democratic candidates vehemently oppose weed, but they aren't exactly jumping on the legalized marijuana bandwagon, either — Hillary Clinton doesn't have a clear opinion on the subject and Bernie Sanders supports medical marijuana, but doesn't see decriminalization as a major issue. With more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S., Webb thinks it is a big problem, which is precisely why he's in favor of decriminalized pot.
So far, he hasn't made it a central issue for his campaign, but he's only officially been in the race a few hours, so it very well could become a big part of his platform. His campaign website says: "The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Since I doubt we have the most evil people in the world, many now agree that we’re doing something wrong."
In the past, Webb had only hinted at the fact that he thought decriminalizing weed was a viable option for criminal justice reform. As a U.S. senator, he started a commission dedicated to writing new criminal justice legislation, and suggested that marijuana legalization would be an option, but the commission was blocked by the rest of the Senate. When speaking at the National Sheriffs' Association Conference in Baltimore Tuesday, though, Webb said that, just like mental illness, people shouldn't be thrown in jail for being addicted to drugs, which is an illness. He also compared drugs to cigarettes, saying:
We didn't make cigarettes illegal. We just got the information out there and educated people about the potential harm. That is actually a success of education regarding your health, more than punitive law per se, and there have to be similar approaches when it comes to drug use.
Decriminalizing weed and legalizing weed are two totally different things, and just to be clear, Webb supports eliminating prosecution for marijuana and other drug offenses, not necessarily allowing recreational pot use. Regardless, his clear stance on drug decriminalization could work in his favor during the 2016 race if he uses it to his advantage.