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Vanita Gupta, New DOJ Civil Rights Pick, Has Supported Marijuana Legalization (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:31 p.m. | The new nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division — American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Vanita Gupta — has backed legalizing and taxing marijuana.  

Just last month in a CNN column, Gupta suggested states follow the lead of Colorado and Washington to legalize and tax marijuana, rather than imprisoning people for using it. "It's time for states to end the costly criminalization of marijuana and recalibrate sentencing laws so that the punishment actually fits the crime as opposed to a politician's re-election agenda," she said. "Public attitudes toward marijuana are rapidly evolving, and a Gallup poll last year found for the first time that a majority of Americans now favor legalization as a better course than criminalization. ...  

"The solution is clear. Instead of taxpayers spending millions of dollars on this unnecessary enforcement, ... 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."  

The Gupta pick was praised by Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.  

"Having someone who believes that marijuana legalization is a social justice issue serving as the chief civil rights official in the Justice Department will be simply game changing," he said. "Hopefully she can convince the next attorney general to initiate the process of rescheduling marijuana under federal law."  

A Justice Department official threw cold water on the idea that Gupta's hiring signals Obama is turning over a new leaf on marijuana.  

"I would point out that the Civil Rights Division has no role in enforcing federal drug laws. So I would guard against interpreting the pick through that lens," the official said.  

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Topics: marijuana