Speaking to CNN on Thursday morning in an effort to whip up political support for his prison reform proposals, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) insisted that marijuana legalization should be "on the table."
His bill, introduced late March, aims to establish a presidential commission to study prison reforms and drug criminalization and make recommendations to Congress after 18 months.
Senator Webb's bill is backed by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and has reportedly received "quiet encouragement from President Barack Obama."
Some other stated supporters of Sen. Webb's reform proposals "include the current Judiciary panel head, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois," noted the Times-Dispatch.
"With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different--and vastly counterproductive," wrote Sen. Webb in a March 29 editorial in Parade. "Obviously, the answer is the latter."
As a means of addressing the "national disgrace" -- as Webb says -- that is the US prison system, initial reports on the bill indicated that its authors intended for drug criminalization to be part of the study.
"Would you support perhaps legalizing marijuana?" asked CNN's Kiran Chetry on Thursday morning.
"I think what we need to do is to put all the issues on the table," said Sen. Webb. "You're correct: if you go back to 1980 as a starting point, I think we had 40,000 people in prison on drug charges and today we have about a half a million of them. A great majority of those are non-violent crimes, possession crimes or minor sales.
"At the same time, we've got a situation with Mexican drug cartels conducting violence along the border, operating in 230 American cities, and we aren't getting our arms around that in a proper way so, we need to put it on the table. That's why we need a presidential commission to look at these things -- people who have high stature in these career areas -- and to report to the Congress on the best way to go forward. But, nothing should be off the table."
"And that includes, as you were saying, possibly looking at legalization?" asked Chetry.
"Well, I think they should examine every aspect of drug policy to see what's working and what's not working ..." said Sen. Webb.
This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast Apr. 23, 2009.