Former U.S. surgeon general Carmona says decriminalizing pot should be debated

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- The former U.S. surgeon general and Democratic senate hopeful said Monday that decriminalizing marijuana is something that should be talked about.

Richard Carmona made the comments after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.

Although Carmona didn’t endorse the idea, he did say it should be debated.

“I don’t think there’s a clear cut answer,” Carmona told 3TV. “But what we do need is a rational debate about this to make a decision.”

Carmona worked as the nation’s top medical official under President George W. Bush. He’s now seeking to become the first Democratic senator from Arizona in nearly 20 years.

President Barack Obama personally urged Carmona to run for the office being left open by Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, who is stepping down at the end of the year.

Carmona said some drug users would be better served by going to drug diversion and education programs. That, he said, could relieve some of the burdens put on the state’s prison system.

“I think we have to have everything on the table,” Carmona said. “The health effects of that, the economic effects and also the judicial system which is now really overwhelmed with people with minor drug offenses.”

According to the Arizona Department of Correction’s website, nearly 20 percent of the state’s prison population is serving time for drug convictions.

It’s unclear if easing the state’s drug laws would be popular with in Arizona. Voters here did approve a ballot proposition in 2010 legalizing marijuana for medical reasons.