|Drug War Chronicle:
In your issue statement on the war on drugs, you say "it is time to bring
some illegal drugs within the law by regulating, taxing, and controlling
them." Are you referring specifically to marijuana, or do you have
other drugs in mind?
Ralph Nader: Marijuana
is the drug that should most clearly be brought into a system of regulation
and taxation. It is less dangerous than drugs like alcohol and tobacco
as far as addiction and death. Regulation and taxation would provide
greater control over purity, potency labeling, health warnings and age
restrictions then the ineffective current 'war on marijuana' approach.
In addition, experience with allowing retail sales of marijuana in Holland
have shown effectiveness -- significantly less marijuana use in all age
categories, especially by youth, twice as many US youth use marijuana on
a per capita basis than Dutch youth.
Regarding other drugs, there
has not been enough research done to show whether regulation and taxation
approaches would work. Research being done in Switzerland on heroin
assisted treatment -- where heroin users go to a government controlled
clinic, purchase their heroin and use it at the clinic under the eyes of
a health care worker -- show promise in that they have reduced crime, disease,
death and dysfunction without increasing drug use, indeed leading to reduced
Chronicle: You have
long been a critic of corporate power. How would you prevent a legal
marijuana market from being dominated by large corporations? If you
are talking about legalizing or regulating marijuana, how would that work?
Nader: We do not want
the forbidden fruit enticement of marijuana's illegality to be replaced
with glamorization by Madison Avenue advertising. Preventing national
advertising that would create national brand name recognition would help
keep large corporations out. This does not mean all advertising should
be banned -- just national advertising to develop national brand recognition.
Control of large corporations is a broader question that relates to this
issue. The US needs to do more to control corporations through their
corporate charters, taxation, and enforcement against corporate crime,
fraud and abuse and the ending of corporate welfare.
Chronicle: What about
Nader: The criminal
prosecution of patients for medical marijuana must end immediately, and
marijuana must be treated as a medicine for the seriously ill. The
current cruel, unjust policy perpetuated and enforced by the Bush Administration
prevents Americans who suffer from debilitating illnesses from experiencing
the relief of medicinal cannabis.
While substantial scientific
and anecdotal evidence exists to validate marijuana's usefulness in treating
disease, a deluge of rhetoric from Washington claims that marijuana has
no medicinal value. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 defines
marijuana as a Schedule One narcotic, making it very difficult for American
researchers to perform rigorous double-blind scientific studies on marijuana.
Even without these difficulties, research has shown marijuana to be a safe
and effective medicine for controlling nausea associated with cancer therapy,
reducing the eye pressure for patients with glaucoma, and reducing muscle
spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, para- and quadriplegia.
are undertaking massive studies to determine the healing powers of cannabis.
In August 2003 the esteemed British medical journal The Lancet reported
that the world's largest study into the medical effects of cannabis have
confirmed that the drug can reduce pain and improve the lives of people
with multiple sclerosis. The three-year study was the first proper
clinical appraisal of whether cannabis-derived drugs can help treat MS.
Harvard medical doctor Lester Grinspoon has said he would have loved to
do a similar study, but has been held back by the law. On his web site
(http://www.rxmarijuana.com), and in his book "The Forbidden Medicine,"
Grinspoon documents how marijuana relieves the pain of people enduring
more than 110 different medical conditions -- like AIDS, Crohn's Disease,
glaucoma, cancer, and many more. Marijuana helps increase appetite,
reduce blood pressure and intraocular pressure.
Whenever given the chance,
the American public has voted to allow seriously ill people to relieve
their pain with marijuana. Despite well-funded opposition from the
federal government, citizens in nine states have cast ballots to legalize
the use of medicinal marijuana. No state has ever rejected such a
voter initiative. Medical marijuana community health centers have
opened up in the states, like California, only to be aggressively attacked
and closed by federal law enforcement agents. Physicians must have
the right to prescribe this drug to their patients without the fear of
the federal government revoking their licenses, and doctor-patient privacy
must be protected. The Drug Enforcement Administration should not
be practicing medicine.
Chronicle: There are
more than two million people behind bars in this country, about one-quarter
of them prisoners of the war on drugs. In terms of broader criminal
and social justice policies, what would you do to reduce this number?
And what about the people who are already in prison?
Nader: Repeal mandatory
sentencing and "three strikes and you're out laws" and return power to
judges to sentence people as individuals within voluntary guidelines.
Mandatory sentencing laws coincide with the rapid rise of people incarcerated
since the mid-1980s. This is especially true for the rapid rise of
incarceration of African Americans. Handling substance abuse as a
health problem more than as a law enforcement issue will slow the expansion
of the number of drug offenders arrested and incarcerated. Regarding
people already in prison, first, reforms in sentencing should be made retroactive.
It is an injustice to say these laws are not fair, but then keep people
incarcerated based on those unfair laws. Second, many people -- indeed
hundreds of thousands -- are being released annually. Government,
rather than providing assistance to these people to help them make the
most of their lives, has put roadblocks in front of them. We need
to remove the roadblocks, and make it easier for people to get a good education
and a good job. Along with this we need to encourage them to rejoin
the community as full citizens by restoring their right to vote.
Chronicle: Your issue
statement on reforming the criminal justice system says you want to replace
the war on drugs with "a health-based, treatment and prevention focused
approach." Now, much drug treatment is coerced; people are given
a choice between treatment and prison. Should ordering someone into
drug treatment be a function of the criminal justice system?
Nader: The best drug
treatment is treatment that the user chooses. It is a lot less expensive,
and less damaging to the individual, to make drug treatment as available
as any other health service then it is to have the government arrest, prosecute,
incarcerate and then force someone into treatment. So, the first
choice is to make treatment as easily available as possible. That
means making it affordable and user-friendly, i.e. located in neighborhoods
where people can access it, and have treatment available to treat individual
needs. (For example, many drug addicted women have been victims of
sexual or spousal abuse -- this needs to be incorporated into drug
treatment.) Treatment also needs to include programs that reduce
the harm from drug abuse, e.g. preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS through
needle exchange programs. And, we need to recognize that the most
effective barometer of whether someone is going to succeed in drug treatment
is whether they have a job. Thus, the US needs to be creating jobs
that can give people hope and opportunity in life. While there are
problems with coerced treatment, it is better to give people a choice of
treatment instead of incarceration as done in many of the better drug court
programs currently in existence and as has been passed by voters in California
and other states.
Chronicle: Should drug
treatment be available on demand? If so, how do you pay for it?
Nader: On our web site
we have a detailed plan for making health care available to all Americans
-- this should include substance abuse treatment and prevention.
The Nader campaign supports a single-payer health care plan that replaces
for-profit, investor-owned health care and removes the private health insurance
industry (full Medicare for all). A major problem with our health
care system is that we spend an inordinate amount of money on unnecessary
bureaucracy and duplicative overhead caused primarily by our reliance on
the private health insurance industry. Indeed, 25% of every dollar
spent on health care in the US goes to duplicative and unnecessary overhead.
The United States spends far more on health care than any other country
in the world on a per capita basis, but ranks only 37th in the overall
quality of health care it provides, according to the World Health Organization.
The US is the only industrialized country that does not provide universal
health care. Forty-five million Americans have no health insurance,
and tens of millions more are underinsured. Providing universal health
care can only be accomplished through a single-payer system: no country
ever achieved universal coverage with private health insurance. President
Harry Truman proposed universal health care in 1948 but was rebuffed by
Congress. The time to act is yesterday. Let us end our disastrous
descent into the corporatization of medicine and its callous consequences.
Chronicle: Is the drug
war, and more broadly, the criminal justice system, racist?
Nader: The drug war
and criminal injustice system certainly have a racially unfair impact.
The facts on this are evident, according to federal surveys, "most current
illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9 million
whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent), and
1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users
in 1998." Despite these facts, African Americans constitute 36.8%
of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons
for drug violations. African-Americans comprise almost 58% of those
in state prisons for drug felonies; Hispanics account for 20.7%.
From racial profiling to discretionary decisions of prosecutors and judges,
African Americans and Latinos are treated more harshly than European-Americans.
Chronicle: Your issue
statements on criminal justice and the war on drugs illustrate some of
the harm done by the drug war. The evidence of the damage is irrefutable,
yet little changes. Why is reforming our drug policies such an intractable
Nader: Change is always
difficult. Their are entrenched interests that profit from the current
system -- within the government , e.g., the drug enforcement bureaucracy,
and outside the government, e.g. profit-making corporate prisons or the
drug treatment industry that relies on court-ordered clients. In
addition, many politicians who have supported the war on drugs have a hard
time publicly admitting they were wrong. They have no standard of
failure so as to change course. Yet, progress is being made.
States are voting for medical marijuana and treatment instead of prison.
The public seems to see the failure of the drug war, now it is time for
politicians who refuse to see it to be replaced by elected officials ready
to end the expensive and failed drug war.
Chronicle: Your agricultural
policy issue statement does not mention hemp. What's up with that?
Nader: At http://www.votenader.org/media_press/index.php?cid=29
we have a strong position supporting industrial hemp. The Nader-Camejo
Campaign supports industrial hemp as a renewable resource with many important
fuel, fiber, food, paper, energy and other uses. Industrial hemp
is a commercial crop grown for its seed and fiber and the products made
from them such as oil, seed cake, and hurds (stalk cores). Industrial
hemp is one of the longest and strongest fibers in the plant kingdom, and
it has had thousands of uses over the centuries. In need of alternative
crops and aware of the growing market for industrial hemp -- particularly
for bio-composite products such as automobile parts, farmers in the United
States are forced to watch from the sidelines while Canadian, French and
Chinese farmers grow the crop and American manufacturers import it from
them. Federal legislators, meanwhile, continue to ignore the issue
of removing it from the DEA list. It is time to allow hemp agriculture,
production and manufacturing in the United States.
Chronicle: Drug reform
ranks include supporters from across the political spectrum. Most
will consider your drug policy positions very favorably, but many of those
who are aligned with the political left will oppose your candidacy nevertheless,
because they fear splitting the vote and handing the election to George
Bush. Do you think they're wrong, and if so, why?
Nader: The only wasted
vote is a vote for a candidate you don't believe in. George Bush
and John Kerry have strong pro-drug war records. George Bush and
John Ashcroft have a terrible record on all the issues discussed in this
survey and have been aggressive in their prosecution of drug offenders
including medical marijuana in states like California where the voters
have voted to support medical marijuana. But, the Clinton administration
was not much better, even on medical marijuana they took steps to enforce
the marijuana laws and close community-based medical marijuana clinics
sanctioned by local governments. Senator John Kerry is a former prosecutor
who was one of the lead sponsors of Plan Colombia and has supported crime
bills that have led to the mess of our criminal injustice system and the
high levels of incarceration. People who oppose the drug war are
showing little respect for themselves if they vote for candidates who want
to incarcerate them, their friends or their family for addictions; or who
support a policy as damaging as the war on drugs. As your question
notes "fear" is behind voting against your interest for the lesser evil.
When you operate out of fear you are likely to make mistakes. People
need to put aside fear and vote for the greater good, not the lesser evil.