(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #160, 11/17/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Judge Scott O. Wright, a Senior Federal Circuit Court Judge for the Western District of Missouri, this week joined the ranks of drug war critics on the federal bench. Wright stands alongside luminaries like Jack Weinstein, Robert Sweet and John Kane in utilizing his standing on the bench as a bully pulpit to call for drug policy change.
Last Sunday, Wright accepted an invitation to give the keynote speech at the Kansas City Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee's human relations awards banquet.
He took that opportunity to hurl thunderbolts at the nation's drug policies, telling a receptive audience that the war on drugs "is destroying our inner city communities," and denouncing mandatory minimum sentencing, asset forfeiture abuses, and the "annihilation" of Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures.
Wright, a Nebraska native, served as a Marine Corps aviator during World War II before obtaining a law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1950. His legal career alternated between private practice and stints as a prosecuting attorney. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and served as chief judge from 1985 to 1990. He assumed senior judge status in 1991.
The Week Online interviewed
Judge Wright on Wednesday. Here are excerpts from that interview:
New Jersey Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. announced last week that on November 28th his office will finally make public as many as 80,000 pages of state police records dealing with racial profiling.
The chairman of the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee, William L. Gormley, had demanded that the records be released. After resisting Gormley's demand for months, Attorney General Farmer announced in September that he would comply.
Gormley had imposed a November 10th deadline for the records' release, but Farmer told the Associated Press on that date that the number of records was larger than expected and his workers kept finding previously undiscovered files, thus necessitating the delay.
Racial profiling refers to selecting drivers by race or ethnicity to be targeted for minor traffic infractions and then searched for drug violations. Racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike had been the subject of national network television broadcasts as early as 1989. Years of complaints about the practice flared into white-hot controversy in April 1998, after two New Jersey state troopers fired on a van carrying four black and Latino men on the New Jersey Turnpike. Three were injured.
The documents could hold more potentially damaging revelations for state police and elected officials, who for years repeatedly denied that they engaged in such tactics, but were then forced to publicly admit that they were wrong.
In April 1999, then Attorney General Peter Verniero admitted that racial profiling was "real, not imagined," and that black and Latino drivers did indeed face discriminatory police attention.
But that was only one of many black-letter days for New Jersey law enforcement officials. A few months earlier, in February 1999, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman was forced to fire Police Superintendent Carl A. Williams after he told a newspaper interviewer that minority groups were linked to drug trafficking.
And only days after Verniero's admission, New Jersey law enforcement suffered the indignity of a federal Justice Department investigation of the state police on civil rights grounds. After months of negotiations between the state and the Justice Department, New Jersey was forced to accept a consent decree requiring the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure that the state complies with an agreement to end racial profiling.
The documents could further clarify the roles of various state officials, including Gov. Christy Whitman, in fending off earlier attempts to investigate and halt racial profiling by state troopers along the New Jersey Turnpike.
The New York Times last month examined some 11,000 of the documents already released as part of a lawsuit filed against the state police. The Times' investigation found that as early as 1996, New Jersey law enforcement and elected officials were aware that racial profiling was an ongoing problem, but that instead of rectifying the situation, state police commanders engaged in a defensive strategy of denials.
Of particular interest will be any documents showing what then Attorney General Verniero (since appointed to the state Supreme Court) and Gov. Whitman knew about racial profiling by the state police and when they knew it.
Verniero, in testimony before the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee, said his concerns about racial profiling did not "crystallize" until after the 1998 shooting. But records perused by the Times indicate that senior members of Verniero's staff were involved in 1996 efforts to uncover racial profiling.
And, according to a police summary of a 1997 meeting, Verniero and then state police commander Colonel Carl Williams, in an effort to avoid "unpleasant surprises," decided to limit data provided to the Justice Department to two state police stations already under fire for racial profiling.
"Decision reached to restrict production of data to Moorestown and Cranbury stations," wrote the state police sergeant who took notes on the January 10, 1997 meeting.
Gov. Whitman has claimed that she had no evidence of racial profiling until early 1999, and the records released so far do not include any memorandums to or from either Whitman or Verniero. Such documents could be among those to be released later this month, but lawyers for the state have claimed that thousands of documents are exempt from disclosure. Whether memos between Whitman and Verniero are included will not be known until the document release is reviewed.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting this week in Washington, DC, issued a call for sweeping reforms in the nation's criminal justice system.
The 290 American bishops endorsed a statement on crime issues titled "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice." The entire statement is available online at http://www.nccbuscc.org/sdwp/criminal.htm.
Citing Catholic doctrine, the bishops called for a greater commitment to rehabilitate offenders as well as greater concern for the well-being of crime victims. In its broadest form, the statement says the Church "will not tolerate the crime and violence that threatens the lives and dignity of our sisters and brothers, and we will not give up on those who have lost their way. We seek both justice and mercy."
They also reaffirmed their opposition to the death penalty.
The bishops' statement contains a long list of policy prescriptions including an end to "simplistic solutions" such as mandatory minimum sentencing and "three strikes" laws, an insistence that punishment have a constructive and rehabilitative purpose, treatment for addicted and mentally ill offenders, and a demand that crime prevention and poverty reduction be seriously confronted.
While noting at various points the role of drug policy as an exacerbating factor, the bishops declined to directly address the issue of drug law reform. Instead, they concentrated on calls for treatment and more humane sentencing for drug offenders.
In a prepared statement before the conference, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, who chaired a criminal justice study committee for the bishops, said they consulted chaplains, judges, victims and their advocates, wardens, ex-offenders and other experts.
"Despite their different perspectives, they all agree that the current system is in need of a fresh approach," said Mahony, "one that offers real rehabilitation for offenders, takes seriously the concerns of victims and restores communities affected by crime."
He later told the New York Times, "I see this as a major initiative that's going to engage us pastorally for years to come."
Indeed, the bishops' call includes detailed steps that parishes and dioceses should take to improve public safety, assist prisoners and their families, and help crime victims.
In other business at the conference, the bishops adopted positions reaffirming their opposition to abortion, calling for better treatment of immigrants, and urging an end to the bloody, decades-long civil war in Sudan.
At their annual fall conclave, held this week in Coral Gables, Florida, legislators from the 16 southern states in the Southern Legislative Conference of The Council of State Governments have asset forfeiture reform on their agenda.
Sandwiched in among such hot legislative topics as "The Importance of Trucking in the US and SLC State Economies," "Supply and Demand: The Outlook for Natural Gas," and "Key Medicaid Issues Update: State Financing, SCHIP, and TANF Delinking" is a panel on police seizures of cash and property from criminal suspects.
The Saturday panel titled "To Serve & Collect: Are Local and Federal Policies Circumventing State Drug Asset Forfeiture Laws?" will provide legislators the opportunity to hear from Missouri state Senator Harry Wiggins, who sponsored asset forfeiture reform legislation in his state; Steven Kessler, a New York-based criminal defense attorney forfeiture law expert; and two federal officials. The Justice Department will be represented by Trial Attorney Steven Schlesinger, while Bill Bradley, legal counsel to the Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture will represent Treasury.
Conference regional representative Todd Edwards told DRCNet Wiggins suggested the topic and it was approved by the head of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, Delegate Dana Denbrow of Maryland.
Wiggins is a Kansas City Democrat and co-chair of a joint legislative committee tasked with studying asset forfeiture in Missouri. Frustrated by law enforcement end runs around state asset forfeiture rules, he filed a bill in January that would force Missouri police to actually obey the law.
Under Missouri law, the proceeds from asset forfeitures are supposed to go to education. But state and local law enforcement agencies got around the law by handing their booty off to federal agencies such as the DEA, which would keep a fraction and return the rest to the seizing state police agency.
Police officials argued that they didn't technically seize assets; they only held them for federal officials.
While that bill has not yet passed -- Wiggins promised to reintroduce it in February -- his efforts have had an impact. In June, the Kansas City police board caved in to mounting pressure and ordered the department to follow state law.
After the Kansas City department's action, Wiggins sent an open letter to the Missouri Highway Patrol and the St. Louis county and city police departments urging them to follow Kansas City's example, but they have yet to voluntarily comply.
The current conference marks at least the second conference of state legislators ready to hear about asset forfeiture reform. In June, lawmakers from across the country attending the National Conference of State Legislatures convention in Chicago had the chance to hear a similar panel, also including Wiggins and Kessler, discussing ways to prevent police from using federal agencies to get around state laws.
With asset forfeiture reform initiatives having passed in Utah and Oregon this year and limited federal reforms last year, asset forfeiture appears to be solidly on the legislative agenda.
"Clearly, asset forfeiture is something that needs to be revisited by legislators throughout the country," one legislator in Chicago told the Kansas City Star. "It's going to be a big debate. It's going to be a very complicated procedure."
DRCNet last reported on changing attitudes toward cannabis use and the resulting reverberations for British politics in late October (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/157.html#britain). Since then, Britain's cannabis controversy continues to tie the Labour government of Tony Blair in knots.
In the wake of a rash of "I smoked it" confessions by Conservative Party leaders and even some members of the Blair cabinet, Blair issued an edict ordering his cabinet to no longer discuss past cannabis use. But Dr. Mo Mowlam, Cabinet Office Minister and head of government drug policy, had already joined the ranks of the confessors.
Mowlam made waves again last week when, in a break with longstanding Labour cannabis policy that could signal a softening of the Blair hard line, she told BBC's On the Record TV program that the Labour Party could consider relaxing the laws on recreational use of cannabis if the scientific evidence showed it was not harmful or addictive.
In the interview, she said that the Blair government did not condone cannabis use, but that she did not consider it a "gateway" drug. Instead, she told BBC, it could be that "drug pushers persuaded cannabis users to try heroin."
Later, in an appearance on BBC radio, Mowlam added that the cabinet was now reconsidering its posture toward cannabis in light of recent shifts in public opinion.
"What is going on is not just a cabinet discussion," she said, "what is going on is what we want to see, which is a more open discussion of the impact of cannabis."
"But," she hastened to add, "our position on cannabis has not changed."
Mowlam's comments came just days after Ian McCartney, a Cabinet Office colleague whose son died of a heroin overdose, attacked the government's "just say no" policy as a failure and called for a "new realism" on drug policy.
But stiff opposition to drug policy reform remains, as evidenced by the savaging undergone by drug tsar Keith Hellawell in some quarters of the media, after he had the temerity to challenge the gateway theory that cannabis leads to hard drug use.
"I have never subscribed to the view that if you take cannabis you end up taking heroin," he told an interviewer. "There's no research I know of that proves the link."
The tabloid Daily Mail promptly lined up a host of "experts" to denounce Hellawell, headlining its critical op-ed piece, "What is the Point of This Man? Employed as Drug Tsar, He Says Cannabis Does Not Lead to Harder Drugs."
Within two days of that slash and burn attack, Hellawell recanted. He is now once more convinced that "cannabis is a gateway drug," he told reporters on November 8th.
Lost in the hubbub over gateway drugs and possible legalization were Mowlam's remarks indicating that the Labour government is preparing to move forward on medical marijuana. She told the BBC News that action could come soon, depending on the results of scientific trials.
"I hope that by the end of next year those scientific results will be out and then we can make a clear evaluation in relation to medicinal use," she said.
When asked if this meant the Blair government might back legalization for medical use by the end of next year, Mowlam gave a qualified affirmative answer. "Yes, but legalize it in the form of cannabinoids which is a kind of derivative so people don't have to smoke it."
If cannabis policy is giving the Blair government fits, Labourites can take some solace in the fact that it is also breeding nasty conflicts among the Tory opposition.
Last week, James Bercow, a Tory home affairs junior spokesman, attacked his boss' policy on drugs. Conservative shadow cabinet member Anne Widdicome, had ignited the current cannabis furor in early October when she called for mandatory fines and criminal records for cannabis consumers.
In an interview with the New Statesman magazine, Bercow said that Widdicome's plan for "a vast clampdown" on cannabis was unrealistic.
"The idea that the police should raid every home in the land looking for dope-smokers is transparently absurd," argued Bercow, who is a member of the socially liberal Portillo faction within the Conservative Party.
"Personal use has been effectively decriminalized... In this country we police by consent," he continued. "The police are not interested in launching an all out war on soft drugs. As far as I can see, alcohol and violence are closely related. It is not at all clear to me that cannabis and violence are."
Finally, readers of last week's Sunday Times were titillated by news that the paper had found traces of cocaine in parliament lavatories, prompting one Labour Member of Parliament, Paul Flynn, who has advocated the legalization of cannabis, to make the following remarks linking the discovery to the gateway drug controversy.
"Cocaine has become the social drug. But those addicted should be treated as patients, not as criminals," he told the Times. "At least the myth has been destroyed that if people start out on a soft drug, they end up on heroin. That they end up on the Tory front bench is not an enviable fate, but it is not quite as bad as lying in a gutter with a needle sticking out of you."
While Sweden's hard-line stance on drugs, the toughest in Western Europe, will remain the law of the land in the foreseeable future, events in the last few weeks suggest that change may be looming just beyond the horizon.
In the 1990s, while most of Europe was moving toward harm reduction and decriminalization strategies toward drug use, Sweden went in the opposite direction. In 1988, Sweden criminalized not just the possession but also the use of drugs. Five years later, it increased the maximum sentence for being high to six months in prison and empowered police to force suspected drug users to submit to blood and urine tests in order to arrest them for consumption of drugs.
Now, a new report from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention has called that policy's tactics and effectiveness into question. As reported in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the council found that arrests for minor drug offenses had increased 70% from 1991 to 1997, that the number of drug tests of suspected users had more than doubled, but that youth drug use continued to rise.
"On the basis of the information that is available regarding the development of illegal drug use there are no clear-cut signs that the criminalization of drug use and the more stringent laws have had any deterrent effect," the report stated.
Criminologist Henrik Tham, a longtime critic of Swedish drug policies, told the Nyheter, "The statistics show that our tough legislation has not had any effect, even though the police are inspecting body fluids in their search for illegal drugs."
Critics may have an ally in the new Justice Minister, 38-year-old Thomas Bodstrom, who was appointed in mid-October. Two years ago, Bodstrom penned a critique of Swedish drug laws in the policy journal Liberal Debatt in which he described the criminalization of drug use as "completely meaningless" and criticized his predecessor, Laila Freivalds, for engaging in a "boring" debate with opposition drug warriors over whose policy was toughest.
In an October 15th interview with the newspaper Expressen, Bodstrom also detailed his own hash-smoking history. He smoked hash "many times" in his teenage years, "at parties and things like that," he said.
Bodstrom took pains to point out that he did not have a criminal record because of hash-smoking and, when asked whether he should have been imprisoned, he responded, "No, I could not have been because it was not illegal."
But this potential ally was backtracking within days as he faced mounting pressure from supporters of the status quo. Choosing his words carefully, he told the Nyheter, "What I was addressing in the Liberal Debatt article is the oversimplifying and caricaturizing that the Moderates [conservative opposition party] stand for with their belief that punishment is all that is necessary to fight crime. And that is absolutely not the case."
Bodstrom also parsed his earlier remarks about "meaningless criminalization," telling the Nyheter that he now supported criminalization.
"Yes, it is important. But we should not rest with that. It is rather meaningless to have only criminalization. The authorities must work preventatively and follow up punishment with care. Punishment alone means drug users are excluded from society," he said.
Where Bodstrom will end up on drug policy remains to be seen, but he is now in the hot seat.
Meanwhile, latent tensions over drug policy found expression in a teapot tempest over the kind of police presence required to control an MTV festival at Stockholm's suburban Globe theater scheduled for Thursday evening. According to reports in the newspaper Aftonbladet, local police authorities graciously declined offers from the country's "Rave Commission" drug squad and the Stockholm drug task force to help police the event. The festival features a number of global pop music stars and is expected to draw thousands of fans from across Europe.
"Thank you for your interest, but we don't see any need for your services," local police commanders wrote in their reply to the eager narcs.
"The risk for drugs is not bigger during the MTV festival than for other concerts," police commander Bruno Jarlestad told Aftonbladet. "Why should I presume that the world's elite artists are a bunch of junkies?"
Such an attitude did not sit well with either the drug squads or their civilian cheerleaders. Drug police accused local commanders of trying to avoid drug scandals and said they had 20 officers "ready to march."
Still, responded Jarlestad, "The Globe is within our jurisdiction. We have people who know the arena and can uphold law and order. There is no need for drug squads from the city to go there and show off and look for people under the influence of drugs."
Anti-drug crusaders such as Malou Lindholm, who has exported her brand of wisdom to drug squabbles as far away as Australia, and Torgny Peterson, the head of European Cities Against Drugs, are up in arms.
Peterson went so far as to send an open letter to the Stockholm police commission reminding authorities that police "are obligated to enforce existing narcotics legislation."
Peterson accused local police commanders of "arrogance but also an extensive ignorance about the presence of drugs in this type of event."
Peterson and his allies, however, got no succor from the police commission. Chairwoman Kristina Axen Olin told Aftonbladet that no special police presence is in place during concerts at the Globe.
"Therefore, it's not unusual if the local police department has made the judgment that extra help is needed," she said. "All policemen are trained to handle drug issues."
By Wednesday, however, local police commanders reversed course in the face of the criticism, allowing the drug squads to be present during the festival.
Local police spokesman Jarlestad remained unconvinced that the narcs were needed. "The Rave Commission wants to come and we might need to bring in the marine police if it rains a lot. Then in case of a hostage drama I guess we'll have to bring in the national crisis team and some negotiators as well," he sneered to Aftonbladet.
Swedish drug war zealots can also rest easier knowing that Swedish Customs has brought in the drug dogs at Arlanda airport to ensure that visiting fans and musicians are coming in clean.
As of press time, DRCNet had no reports of drug-addled music fans rampaging through Sweden before, during, or after the festival.
After waiting nearly two years, and only days after voters approved a sweeping drug sentencing reform initiative, California Governor Gray Davis has appointed Kathryn Jett as his first director of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
In that capacity, Jett will oversee the implementation of Proposition 36.
Jett, 47, will leave her current position as director of the California Attorney General's Crime and Prevention Center, where she oversaw programs such as those providing local law enforcement agencies with training materials for Neighborhood Watch programs. While at the center, Jett also served on a committee of the California Peace Officers' Association, a group that lobbied hard against Prop. 36.
Jett also serves as chair of the executive committee of the Crime Prevention Coalition of America, a law enforcement-heavy organization whose primary claim to fame is its support of the "McGruff the Crime Dog" campaign, with its "Take A Bite Out Of Crime" slogan.
Jett will have a formidable task ahead of her in implementing Prop. 36, especially if she attempts to undercut the successful initiative. The new law's supporters are already pressuring Governor Davis to immediately release the first $60 million of $120 million authorized by the initiative to begin implementation of its mandate to divert some 36,000 drug offenders from jail or prison to drug treatment.
The Dogwood Center's "Health Emergency 2001" report provides a revealing look at, and important data about, the impact of injection-related HIV/AIDS and laws barring provision of sterile syringes on the African American and Latino communities in the United States. Among Health Emergency's findings and recommendations:
INFECTIOUS DISEASE SOCIETY ENDORSEMENT
The latest bulletin from the Infectious Disease Society of America (http://www.idsociety.org) reports that IDSA has adopted a statement in support of needle exchange programs. IDSA's statement supports efforts to:
Meanwhile, injection-related HIV and hepatitis continues to emerge as devastating global epidemics. According to Agence France Presse (11/3 -- http://www.afp.com), the World Bank reports that injection drug use is fueling an AIDS epidemic in southeast Asia. All south Asian countries except Cambodia have rising rates of drug use, and HIV rates among injection drug users are increasing in a number of countries as well, including Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Burma. Bangkok, Thailand's HIV rate among injection drug users has risen from two percent 10 years ago to more than 40 percent today.
In Vietnam, according to Reuters (11/7), 140,000 to 165,000 people will have HIV by year's end. Injection drug use is among the major factors driving the growing problem.
Pakistan, according to the Washington Post (11/12), has approximately 1.5 million heroin addicts. While HIV has not yet hit the injecting population in force, nearly 90 percent of participants in a study by the Nai Zindagi (New Life) needle exchange center were diagnosed with the hepatitis C virus.
(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
Washington, DC: The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' (NACDL) board of directors unanimously approved a resolution on November 4th calling for the end of the war on drugs.
In its resolution, NACDL, the nation's largest specialty bar association representing the interests of criminal defense lawyers, stated that drug use should be considered a health problem, and that the government should "repeal all laws criminalizing the possession, use and delivery of controlled substances." The resolution also calls for a regulated and taxable system for selling controlled substances with a portion of the revenues going towards drug treatment clinics, drug education and research.
"As a nation, we've stood by and watched this 'war on drugs' lock up a whole generation of young African-Americans," said Fred Leatherman, the NACDL board member who drafted the resolution. "All the evidence says it's a sham and a failure. And everybody else who makes money from it thinks we should escalate the war. We do not agree."
"Both of our presidential candidates committed 'youthful indiscretions' in their day," said NACDL president Edward Mallet. "Would they, or we, be better off if they had been sent to prison like so many blacks and Latinos are these days?"
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to email@example.com.)
November 16-19, San Francisco, CA, "Committing to Conscience: Building a Unified Strategy to End the Death Penalty," largest annual gathering of Death Penalty opponents. Call Death Penalty Focus at (888) 2-ABOLISH or visit http://www.ncadp.org/ctc.html for further information.
November 19, Richmond, VA, 4:20pm, Anti-Drug War Benefit, supporting DRCNet, organized by Virginians Against Drug Violence. Admission $3, at the Cary Street Cafe, 2631 W. Cary St. Scheduled performers include Publik Animalz, Neptune, Parkland Charlie and Mark Fitzgerald. 21-or-over for admission, outdoor facilities for those under 21.
December 2, New Haven, CT, 9:30am-6:30pm, First Conference on Drug Policy and the Prison Overcrowding Crisis in Connecticut. At Yale University, Lindsley Chittenden room 101, 203, 204 and 205, open to the public. For further information, contact Luke Bronin at firstname.lastname@example.org or Adam Hurter at (860) 285-8831 or email@example.com.
January 13, 2001, St. Petersburg, FL, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined. Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.
March 9-11, 2001, New York, NY, Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex. Northeast regional conference, following on the large national gathering in 1998, to focus on the impacts of the prison industrial complex in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and bWashington, DC. Visit http://www.criticalresistance.org for further information, or call (212) 561-0912 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 1-5, 2001, New Delhi, India, 12th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. Sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Coalition, for information visit http://ihrc-india2001.org on the web, e-mail email@example.com, call 91-11-6237417-18, fax 91-11-6217493 or write to Showtime Events Pvt. Ltd., S-567, Greater Kailash - II, New Delhi 110 048, India.
April 19-21, Washington, DC, 2001 NORML Conference. Call (202) 293-8340 for information. Registration and other information to be made available soon at http://www.norml.org.
April 25-28, Minneapolis, MN, North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network, for further information call (253) 272-4857, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.nasen.org on the web. At the Marriott City Center Hotel, 30 South Seventh Street.
David Borden, Executive Director, email@example.com
Dear Mr. President-Soon-To-Be:
A week and a half after the election, I don't know who you are. At least I don't know for sure. But there is something I do know about you. Not to a judicial certainty, perhaps, depending on whom you turn out to be. But I'm pretty sure that most reasonable people would agree with me.
I know you've used illegal drugs.
You've either admitted it, or you've refused to deny it, having been willing to admit to other similar things. Indeed, you might never openly admit it, or admit to how often it actually happened. But I know it's true; and let's face it, I know that you know that I know it's true. Even if you won't say so out loud.
You've talked about "youthful irresponsibility" and growing up and overcoming the mistakes of your past. You've pleaded privacy. You've declared that your behavior of a quarter century or more ago has no relevance to your suitability for the office of President of the United States today.
And you have a valid point. It would be unfortunate, perhaps disastrous, were every past user of any illegal drug to be disqualified from positions of responsibility. I'm willing to grant you the privacy argument, and I'm more than willing to forgive you for "youthful indiscretions." Certainly, the public at large has the right to make such determinations too. You have ample subsequent history, in public office or private life, on which to judge your suitability for the nation's highest office. Based on that history, I decided not to vote for you. But that's only one individual's personal choice.
There's one sticking point, though, that I can't quite get past. It's your drug policies. Under your tenure as Texas Governor or federal Vice President, incarcerations have nearly doubled. You've presided over, sometimes encouraged, mandatory minimum sentences, sending countless nonviolent offenders to prison for much, sometimes most or all of their lives. None of them had the social, medical or legal resources that enabled you to be certain you would never suffer serious consequences for your actions.
You've gone so far as to incarcerate medical marijuana patients, or to allow them to be incarcerated under your authority. And you seem to support stripping students convicted of drug offenses of the educational financial aid that you would never have needed, but which they do.
So I agree that your "youthful indiscretions" aren't all that important. But whether your policies toward today's youth reflect a similar tolerance, or at least forgiveness, for their indiscretions, is very important, and has defining implications for your leadership and character.
Two million Americans languish behind bars, nearly half a million of for nonviolent drug offenses. Yet you ran an entire campaign without discussing this issue more than minimally. I think I know why. But I hope you don't think you'll be able to get away with that for four more years, let alone eight. Because you should know that you won't.
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