It was announced this week that the Obama Administration intends to put liberal activist attorney Vanita Gupta in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The 39-year-old is currently the director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Justice, and she has been verbal throughout her career about the outrageousness of the failed drug war, as well as the need to eliminate the militarization of the American police force.
Reports indicate that Gupta will take over the reins as acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division as early as next week, with speculation that President Obama will nominate her to take over the position on a permanent basis in the near future.
This is good news for advocates of drug policy reform, especially since the majority of Gupta’s passion has involved putting an end to the War on Drugs and the racial disparities that have been prevalent throughout the entire checkered affair. Earlier last month, she wrote an op-ed piece for CNN about a Missouri man named Jeff Mizanskey, who has been sentenced to life in prison over seven pounds of marijuana – calling it an “outrage.”
“This country has spent 40 years relentlessly ratcheting up the number of people going to prison and dramatically expanding the time we hold them there,” she wrote. “We’ve spent decades criminalizing people with drug dependency, passing extreme sentencing laws, and waging a war on drugs that has not diminished drug use.”
In 2011, Gupta published a piece entitled “End the 40-Year War on Drugs,” in which she details her experience representing dozens of African-American men in Tulia, Texas that were hit with lengthy prison sentences for minor drug possession due to the actions of corrupt law enforcement. “My clients spent four years in prison for crimes they did not commit while we worked to clear their names against a stubborn backdrop of entrenched racial bias and fear-driven crime and drug war policies that fueled the drug sweep and ensuing convictions,” she wrote.
These types of injustices are responsible for putting over 2 million people in the United States behind bars, wrote Gupta, which is triple the number of prisoners locked up in the late 1980s. “The war on drugs has sent millions of people to prison for low-level offenses, and seriously eroded our civil liberties and civil rights while costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year, with nothing to show for it except our status as the world’s largest incarcerator.”
Gupta also composed a piece for The New York Times back in 2013, in which she stated that the United States was in desperate need to revamp its current drug policies, beginning with decriminalizing the possession of marijuana and an “investment in substance abuse prevention and treatment.” In the article, she writes that federal aid to state and local agencies should focus on rehabilitation rather than arrest an imprisonment.
When it comes to legalizing marijuana, Gupta, as she wrote in another op-ed piece for CNN earlier this year, believes that “states could follow Colorado and Washington by taxing and regulating marijuana and investing saved enforcement dollars in education, substance abuse treatment, and prevention and other health care,” instead of pissing away millions on “unnecessary enforcement.”
Marijuana supporters are pleased with the announcement of Gupta’s nomination, as it allows follows in the footsteps of the progressive ideas set forth by Attorney General Eric Holder. This could be a brave new beginning for how the Justice Department handles drug policy issues, specifically those involving marijuana and federal incentive programs that award state and local law enforcement for busting petty drug offenders.