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Initiatives: Drug Czar, Prison Guards Gang Up on California's Treatment-Not-Jail Proposition 5

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office) director John Walters headed to California this week to try to defeat a ballot initiative that would divert thousands of drug offenders from prison in the nation's most populous state. The state's powerful prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), has entered the fray too, pledging a million dollars to help finance a last-minute opposition campaign.

The target of their ire is the Nonviolent Offenders Rehabilitation Act (NORA), which will appear on the ballot as Proposition 5. NORA would profoundly deepen and broaden the shift toward treatment instead of incarceration that began six years ago with Proposition 36. If NORA passes, it would:

  • require the state to expand and increase funding and oversight for individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug offenders and parolees;
  • reduce criminal consequences of nonviolent drug offenses by mandating three-tiered probation with treatment and by providing for case dismissal and/or sealing of records after probation;
  • limit courts' authority to incarcerate offenders who violate probation or parole;
  • shorten parole for most drug offenses, including sales, and for nonviolent property crimes;
  • create numerous divisions, boards, commissions, and reporting requirements regarding drug treatment and rehabilitation;
  • change certain marijuana misdemeanors to infractions.

All of that is too much for drug czar Walters, who showed up in Sacramento Tuesday to blast the initiative as a back-door move to legalize drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance, which is backing NORA, and its top funder, financier George Soros, cannot achieve drug legalization "by being honest and straightforward," so they deceptively offered up Prop. 5 to undermine the drug court system, Walters charged. Passage of Prop. 5 would "weaken our capacity to help people in the criminal justice system" who still remain subject to punishment if they fail, he said.

That guaranteed a sharp retort from Prop. 5 supporters. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, spokesperson for Yes on 5, called the measure "a common sense response" to prohibition-related crime and blasted Walters as a spokesman for failed policies. "President Bush's drug czar has come to California to insist that we continue with the failed approach that has been so ineffective and has crowded our prisons full of nonviolent offenders," Dooley-Sammuli said.

The Legislative Analyst's Office calculates that Prop. 5 will lower incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and will cut another $2.5 billion in state costs for prison construction. This doesn't include savings related to reduced crime, lower social costs (e.g. emergency room visits, child protective services, welfare), and increased individual productivity.

But filling California prisons full of nonviolent offenders is a jobs program for the prison guards union. While earlier in the campaign season, the union had been distracted by a failed effort to recall Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, last week it announced it was kicking in a million dollars to defeat the initiative.

"CCPOA never has been shy about making sure that our voice is heard," union spokesman Lance Corcoran said. "We'll continue to do that. We've always put the resources necessary to get the job done," he said.

But while the prison guards and the drug czar join other law enforcement groups in lining up against Prop. 5, the measure has broad support within the treatment community, as well as endorsements from the League of Women Voters of California, the California Nurses Association, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Consumer Federation of California -- among many others.

Feature: Beyond 2008 -- Looking Past the November US Elections

With the November 4 elections now less than two weeks away, most people, drug reformers included, are focused on the near term. Drug reformers in particular are watching with great interest as Michigan voters decide on medical marijuana, Massachusetts voters decide on marijuana decriminalization, and California voters decide whether to approve a groundbreaking treatment-not-jail initiative.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/decrim-chart-mpp08.jpg
(chart appears courtesy MPP)
But some are looking past next month's elections and plotting the future of drug reform. Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project is one of them. At last weekend's National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) conference in Berkeley, Kampia laid out his vision for the next few years.

But before that, he bluntly predicted success in Massachusetts and Michigan. "We are looking at a pair of major victories on November 4," he told the cheering crowd.

With a dozen medical marijuana states already and Michigan poised to be the breakthrough state in the Midwest, MPP will be aiming at placing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot in three more states in 2010 -- Ohio, Massachusetts, and Arizona, Kampia said.

He also listed nine states where MPP is working to move medical marijuana forward through the legislative process. In four of them -- Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York -- significant progress has already been made, and MPP will attempt to build on that. In five other states -- Delaware, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia -- work is just getting started in the legislature.

How successful MPP will be in the near future depends greatly on the outcome of next month's national election, warned MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "The overarching thing is we will push ahead with as much of this as we can, but it will all be affected by next month's election," he said. "That will either give us a major push or make our lives much more complicated. We're hopeful it will be the former."

But regardless of what happens in November, MPP will also be returning to Nevada in what would be a third bid to actually legalize marijuana possession there. "We will try to file a legalization initiative in Nevada in 2012," Kampia said.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/medmj-chart-mpp08.jpg
(chart appears courtesy MPP)
"Nevada is definitely on the agenda," said Mirken. "We've always considered Nevada to be an ongoing project, we got significantly closer on our last attempt, and we're definitely looking at going back."

One clear sign of MPP's intentions in Nevada is their latest hiring announcement. It includes five positions in the state.

MPP isn't the only national reform organization eyeing the future. "We have a lot planned," said Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) executive director Ethan Nadelmann, "but the bigger question right now is what will happen with California's Proposition 5 (related story here). It contains a marijuana decriminalization provision, and if it passes, it will affect a larger number of people than any decrim measure ever."

But while the outcome of Prop. 5 will have an immediate impact, it will also set the course for DPA's future work in the Golden State. "What we do next in California depends on Prop. 5," he said.

Whatever happens in California, DPA will be continuing to work on medical marijuana legislative efforts in three states -- Alabama, Connecticut, and New Jersey -- as well as implementing the hard-won New Mexico medical marijuana law's distribution provisions, and working with local activists in Maine to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot there. The Connecticut legislature passed a medical marijuana bill last year, only to see it vetoed by Republican Gov. Jodi Rell. None of the efforts in the other states have gotten that far yet.

"We will go back and push for medical marijuana in Connecticut," said Nadelmann. "But again, it will depend on our ability to get Gov. Rell to be more flexible. Our legislative sponsor in Alabama has said she is prepared to run with it again, and our New Jersey office has lined up a bunch of legislators to support medical marijuana," he added.

Meanwhile, while MPP is eyeing another legalization run in Nevada four years from now, activists in Oregon's fractious cannabis community are preparing a pair of competing initiatives for the 2010 ballot. Oregon NORML is working on the Oregon Tax Act of 2010, which would regulate and tax adult sales, license the cultivation of marijuana for sale in state-run liquor stores and adults-only businesses, allow for adults to grow their own and farmers to grow hemp without a license, and remove taxation from medical marijuana.

While the Tax Act would do away with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) by rendering it redundant, Voter Power, the group of activists who got OMMA passed a decade ago, have their own initiative in the works. The Voter Power initiative would allow for dispensaries and Patient Resource Centers (PRCs) to sell smokeable marijuana, edibles, tinctures, and lozenges to patients, for growers to legally sell marijuana to dispensaries and PRCs, and for 10% of gross revenues to go back into the Oregon Medial Marijuana Program.

But wait, there's more: According to Kampia, the ACLU is organizing for decriminalization efforts in Montana and Washington, and activists in five additional states -- Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin -- are working on medical marijuana efforts in their state legislatures.

Right now, all eyes are on November 4, but reforming the drug laws is a work in process, and that process is set to advance in the coming years.

Press Release: California Society of Addiction Medicine Endorses Prop. 5 -- Treatment Community Unifying Behind Measure

For Immediate Release: October 20, 2008 Contact: Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at (213) 291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at (510) 229-5215 California Society of Addiction Medicine Endorses Proposition 5: Treatment Community Unifying Behind Measure SACRAMENTO, October 20 – The California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM) has endorsed Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act. The association of physicians specializing in addiction treatment will be discussing the measure at their annual gathering in Newport Beach this week. Prop. 5 would significantly expand access to drug treatment for young people, nonviolent offenders and California’s prison and parole populations. Dr. Judy Martin, president of CSAM, said, “We have tried incarceration as a primary response to addictive illness for decades and it has failed utterly. Prop. 5 marks a historic shift towards a treatment approach for nonviolent drug offenses. Decades of research and experience show that addiction responds very well to treatment. By reducing addictive behavior, treatment also reduces drug-motivated crime. Now is the time for our policies to reflect that fact. Prop. 5 will bring our response to addiction in line with the science, while protecting public safety.” Dr Martin continued, “Successful addiction treatment holds individuals accountable for their behavior. Prop. 5 gets that right, too, by incorporating sanctions in the community and jail sanctions. Prop. 5 enhances the court’s authority to determine who should and shouldn’t participate in court-supervised treatment and to hold those people accountable during treatment.” California spends $10 billion each year to operate state prisons, but little of that money goes to treatment or rehabilitation for inmates. According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, more than 140,000 of the 170,000 people in prison in California have a drug problem. The Legislative Analyst’s Office calculates that Prop. 5 will lower incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and will cut another $2.5 billion in state costs for prison construction. This doesn’t include savings related to reduced crime, lower social costs (e.g. emergency room visits, child protective services, welfare), and increased individual productivity. Dr. Martin continued, “California cannot continue with its failed policies toward addiction. Now is the time to invest in what we know works to reduce addiction-motivated crime – drug treatment.” For more information, visit www.Prop5Yes.org and www.csam-asam.org.
Location: 
CA
United States

Why Do Prison and Alcohol Lobbies Oppose Drug Treatment?

I’ve been severely remiss in failing thus far to cover the very important Prop. 5 in California. The Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA) would save billions in incarceration costs by referring many drug offenders into treatment instead of prison. It’s a significant reform and the vested drug war interests are in full-blown panic mode trying to defeat it.

The drug czar is in California right now campaigning against it, and a who’s who of drug war profiteers have assembled a well-funded No on 5 campaign, branding Prop. 5 as "the drug dealer’s bill of rights." So who exactly is funding opposition to this commonsense drug treatment initiative?

DPA director Ethan Nadelmann explains via email:

Last week the powerful prison guards union contributed $1 million to the opposition campaign.  That's on top of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Indian tribes/casinos with close links to law enforcement as well as $100,000 from the California Beer and Beverage Distributors.

Isn’t it obvious what’s going on here? The prison industry lobbies shamelessly to keep as many people in prison as possible. The alcohol industry defends the interests of the criminal justice infrastructure that protects their monopoly on legal intoxication. And yet the drug czar has the audacity to present George Soros’s support for reform as some kind of shady conspiracy. It’s just amazing, it really is.

It’s not even my style to go around accusing our opposition of unscrupulous drug war profiteering at every turn, but what else is there to say about this? It’s right in front of our face. It’s as transparent as it is hypocritical. And it can’t be allowed to succeed.

If you live in California, please vote YES on Prop. 5 and tell everyone you know to do the same.

Giuliani Robocall Attacks Obama on Drug Sentencing

Voters in several swing states are receiving this recorded message from Rudy Giuliani:

Hi, this is Rudy Giuliani, and I'm calling for John McCain and the Republican National Committee because you need to know that Barack Obama opposes mandatory prison sentences for sex offenders, drug dealers, and murderers.

It's true, I read Obama's words myself. And recently, Congressional liberals introduced a bill to eliminate mandatory prison sentences for violent criminals -- trying to give liberal judges the power to decide whether criminals are sent to jail or set free. With priorities like these, we just can't trust the inexperience and judgment of Barack Obama and his liberal allies. This call was paid for by the Republican National Committee and McCain-Palin 2008 at 866 558 5591. [TPM]

TPM's Greg Sargent points out the incredibly misleading use of the term "mandatory sentencing":

Note that Rudy claims Obama "opposes mandatory prison sentences" for rapists and murders, Rudy is actually referring to Obama's opposition to specific mandatory minimum sentences. By dropping the word "minimum," he's insinuating that Obama opposes mandatory prison sentences in general.


That’s dead-on. The correct term is "mandatory minimum sentencing," but Giuliani reworks the phrase to make Obama’s position on sentencing reform sound more sinister.

Of course, this is all just total nonsense. Giuliani uses the word "liberal" to disparage judges, as though they are a criminal’s best friend and they all want to "set free" sex offenders, drug dealers, and murderers. Moreover, McCain and Obama are on the same page when it comes to sentencing nonviolent drug offenders. Obama’s opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing stems from his concern that we have too many first-time nonviolent drug offenders in prison, a point McCain agrees with. The Republican platform completely omits drug crimes from the list of offenses for which republicans support mandatory minimum sentencing.

As sleazy and disgusting as this is, I just don’t see it going anywhere. At this point in the campaign, this kind of hysterical mudslinging is inherently suspect. There’s just not much to debate in terms of the candidates’ differences on crime issues anyway, so if the McCain campaign wants to go there, they’ll need to create some kind of meaningful distinction. Arguing that Obama wants to free dangerous criminals sounds ridiculous on its face and won’t survive as a talking point without some substance to back it up. There is none.

My prediction: Giuliani’s throwback to the "soft on crime" attack politics of the '80's will accomplish nothing.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

"High" Crimes: Punishing America's Drug Offenders

The New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement presents is Fall 2008 Symposium. * What is the current legal landscape drug offenders face in the American judicial system? * Are these laws effective in rehabilitating and punishing these offenders? Two Panels will Discuss: * The use of drug courts as an alternative to traditional forms of narcotics jurisprudence, and their impact on communities. * The traditional punishments, specifically mandatory minimum sentencing and the Sentencing Guidelines, and the controversies and policy justifications surrounding these issues. Featured Speakers: Panel I: Drug Courts * Hon. Kevin S. Burke, Hennepin District Court Judge, Minnesota * Joy Clark, Co-Chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' Task Force on Problem-Solving Courts * Hon. Diana L. Maldonado, Chelsea District Court Judge, Massachusetts * Gerald P. Stewart, Assistant District Attorney, Suffolk County, Massachusetts * Hon. Leo T. Sorokin, United States Magistrate Judge, District of Massachusetts Panel II: Drug Sentencing * Professor Douglas A. Berman, William B. Saxbe Designated Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University * Mary Price, Vice-President and General Counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums * Heidi Brieger, Chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Unit, United States Attorney, District of Massachusetts * David W. White, Jr., Past President, Massachusetts Bar Association Contact Information RSVP to: Adonia Simpson at 617-422-7238, adonia.r.simpson@nesl.edu or journalmbe@nesl.edu
Date: 
Fri, 11/07/2008 - 8:00am - 2:00pm
Location: 
154 Stuart Street
Boston, MA
United States

The Drug War Sends White People Into Treatment, While Black People Get Felonies

This Cleveland Plain-Dealer story just completely blows the lid off the inherent racism of the war on drugs. Reporter Bob Paynter pulled out all the stops, digging through court records to demonstrate how people of color receive harsher punishments than white defendants for the same drug crimes.

This is superb reporting, a rare find when it comes to criminal justice issues. Reporters across the nation should repeat Paynter’s methodology. Racial disparities are endemic to the war on drugs and you will find them everywhere. All you have to do is look.

Job Opportunity: National Coordinator, Fair Sentencing of Children, Washington, DC

The Advisory Council for the Fair Sentencing of Children, comprised of professionals working with: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts, Equal Justice Initiative, Human Rights Watch, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the National Center for Youth Law, the National Juvenile Justice Network, and the Youth Justice Coalition, is seeking highly motivated individuals to assume the position of National Coordinator for the Fair Sentencing of Children. The National Coordinator, with the support and advice of the Advisory Council, will work towards ending the sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole (JLWOP) in the United States. There are currently 2,484 persons in US prisons serving JLWOP sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. Campaigns to eliminate JLWOP sentences are ongoing in roughly a dozen states. The National Coordinator will support these campaigns and build a national movement through coalition building, legislative reform work, litigation support and public education.

The responsibilities of the National Coordinator include, but are not limited to, bringing JLWOP advocates together regularly, through conference calls, in-person meetings, a listserv, and a website, to exchange news and ideas, strategize, and explore ways to work together; reaching out to and promoting dialogue with the wider juvenile justice community, victims and victims' rights organizations, law enforcement, and faith based groups; reporting to funders and seeking ongoing support for the National Coordinator's work; compiling model legislation, lobbying strategies, expert witnesses, agendas, public statements, letters of support, and other useful documents and methodologies to share with legislators and advocates working on JLWOP reform legislation at the state and federal levels; conducting and coordinating research concerning the impacts of JLWOP sentencing and sentencing alternatives; monitoring cases in the courts from an impact perspective, and monitoring clemency applications of juveniles serving JLWOP; directing defense attorneys to briefing resources and support (such as brief banks), and bringing new attorneys into reform networks; interacting with the press as a national expert on JLWOP; drafting opinion and editorial submissions; continuously compiling and periodically publishing updated data on the state of juvenile life without parole sentencing in the United States; and advocating at and staying informed of developments at the international level to feed back to coalition networks and for public education purposes.

This position is currently a one-year full-time position, with an anticipated initial extension of one to two years. The National Coordinator is supervised by the Advisory Council for the Fair Sentencing of Children, and is supported by a half-time administrative assistant. It is anticipated that the National Coordinator will be based in Washington, DC; the Advisory Council will consider alternative placements.

Applicants should have at least 4 years of relevant experience in juvenile or criminal justice policy or practice, law, grassroots organizing, public policy, policy reform, or legislative advocacy. An advanced degree in law, public policy, or related fields is preferred. The successful applicant must be highly effective at working in coalitions with diverse partners, an effective public speaker, a leader as well as a collaborative worker, and possess excellent speaking and writing skills in English. The ideal candidate will have good judgment and strong coalition building skills; excellent analytical and strategic-thinking capabilities; the ability to work quickly and effectively under pressure; the capacity to pay close attention to detail while working in a fast-paced environment and juggling multiple tasks; and the ability to work effectively independently, as part of a team, and in partnership with other organizations. A commitment to juvenile or criminal justice reform in the United States is essential. Applicants should be willing to travel.

Competitive compensation commensurate with experience as well as generous benefits.

To apply, please send a letter of interest describing your experience and commitments relevant to this position as well as your preferred salary range; your resume; telephone numbers and email addresses for three reference persons; and a brief (no more than 5 pages) persuasive unedited writing sample (no legal briefs or memoranda) that was solely authored by the applicant. Send applications to anlyn.addis@gmail.com. Only complete submissions will be reviewed.

The Advisory Council for Fair Sentencing of Children does not discriminate in its hiring practices and, in order to build the strongest possible applicant pool, diverse applicants are strongly encouraged to apply.

Death Penalty: Malaysia to Hang Three for Marijuana Trafficking, Executions Continue in Middle East

Twice in the past two weeks, courts in Malaysia have condemned people to death for marijuana trafficking offenses. Meanwhile, both Iran and Yemen have executed drug offenders in the past three weeks. Except where otherwise linked, information in this article comes from the global anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain.

In Malaysia, the High Court Wednesday handed down death sentences to two men, Kairil Anuar Abdul Rahman, 34, and Afendi Adam, 28, for trafficking a little under two pounds of pot six years ago. The pair, a restaurant worker and a painter, respectively, were arrested in March 2002 for selling 971 grams of marijuana. Judicial Commissioner Ridwan Ibrahim said the court had no choice but to impose the death sentences after the men were found guilty. Attorneys for the pair are expected to appeal both the convictions and the sentences.

Two weeks earlier, the Shah Alam Higher Court imposed the death sentence on an Indonesian immigrant, Junaidi Nurdin, 32, for selling 979 grams of pot. Junaidi was arrested in April 2004 after he sold the stuff to an undercover policeman at a restaurant in Shah Alam. He, too, is expected to appeal.

Meanwhile, the execution of drug offenders continued apace in the Middle East. In Yemen, convicted Pakistani drug trafficker Birkhan Afridibar Hussein, 50, was executed at the Central Prison in Sanaa on September 17 after his death sentence was approved by the president of the republic. And in Iran, a man known only as Taher H. was hanged Tuesday in the northern city of Hamedan. Taher H. had been imprisoned on drug charges there, but escaped, only to be caught again with 530 pounds of heroin.

The executions of nonviolent drug offenders, almost exclusively in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, have added momentum to calls for a global moratorium on the death penalty and particularly against using the death penalty for drug offenses.

Feature: Drug Policy and the Reform Vote in the Presidential Race

With the presidential election now less than a month away, Democratic candidate Barack Obama appears poised for victory, according to the most recent polls, though the race is far from over. From the beginning of the campaign, drug reform and drug policy have barely registered in the discourse, a state of affairs that has grown even more pronounced as the country slips into economic crisis and the news media focuses obsessively on the two major party candidates, their campaigns, and their responses to the crisis.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/whitehouse.gif
The White House
Despite the silence at the presidential level, there is an emerging consensus in the country that the war on drugs is a failure -- 76% of respondents in a Zogby poll last week said so -- and there are several presidential candidates whose drug policy platforms actually appeal to drug reformers. With one major party candidate or another establishing clear leads in most states, the presidential election will be decided in a handful of battleground states, and that means drug reformers in the remaining states have the option of voting for candidates whose views resemble their own without jeopardizing the chances of their favored major party candidate.

When it comes to the basic underpinnings of US drug policy, Sens. McCain and Obama are similar, and non-reformist. When it comes to some important details, however, differences do appear. The similarities are well demonstrated by the candidates' responses to a questionnaire from the International Association of Police Chiefs about their views on drug policy, among other issues. The question and their responses are worth reading in their entirety:

"Narcotics abuse and trafficking continues to be a problem that state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers face every day. How would you ensure that enforcement, prevention, and treatment programs receive equal resources and assistance to combat this growing problem?" asked the police chiefs.

Here is McCain's response:

"Illegal narcotics are a scourge that I have fought against for my entire legislative career, and I believe this fight must begin with prevention and enforcement. That is why I introduced the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988 during my first term in the Senate and supported the Drug Free Borders Act of 1999, which authorized over $1 billion in funds to bolster our ability to prevent drugs from flowing through our borders and ports by improving technology and expanding our interdiction forces. As president, I would continue these efforts to ensure that our nation's children are protected from the influence of illegal drugs and that the drug peddlers are brought to justice for their crimes.

We must also realize that treatment is an important element of the mission to eradicate drug abuse. I supported the Second Chance Act, which authorized up to $360 million for violator reentry programs in 2009 and 2010. Last year, approximately 750,000 inmates were released from custody and returned to our communities, and typically one half will return to incarceration. The Second Chance Act funds programs that prepare prisoners for the transition from prison to society by providing job training, mentors, counseling, and more. Some programs report reducing recidivism rates by 50 percent. These programs could save American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. On average, the annual cost of incarcerating a prisoner exceeds $20,000 -- a number that increased sixfold between 1982 and 2002. As president, I believe we should support having parents with children in the home rather than in prison, former prisoners working and paying taxes, and citizens contributing to rather than taking from the community."

Here is Obama's response:

"Drug trafficking has long been a scourge on our society, and we need a national drug policy that focuses on tackling new threats with tough enforcement measures while also providing for robust prevention and treatment programs. All three of these components -- enforcement, prevention, and treatment -- are critical to a complete national drug control strategy, and each will be a key part of my agenda in an Obama-Biden administration. Funding the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program is essential to avoid law enforcement layoffs and cuts to hundreds of antidrug and antigang efforts across the country. The administration has consistently proposed to cut or eliminate funding for the Byrne-JAG Program, which funds antidrug and antigang task forces across the country. Byrne-JAG also funds prevention and drug treatment programs that are critical to reducing US demand for drugs. Since 2000, this program has been cut more than 83 percent. These cuts threaten hundreds of multijurisdictional drug and gang task forces -- many that took years to create and develop. In my home state of Illinois, the Byrne grants have been used effectively to fund anti-meth task forces, and I have consistently fought for increased funding for this program. As president, I will restore funding to this critical program.

Finally, it's important that we address the crime and security problems in Latin America that have clear spillover effects in the United States in terms of gang activity and drug trafficking, which is why I introduced a comprehensive plan to promote regional security in the Americas in June. I will direct my attorney general and homeland security secretary to meet with their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in the first year of my presidency to produce a regional strategy to combat drug trafficking, domestic and transnational gang activity, and organized crime. A hemispheric pact on security, crime, and drugs will permit the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean to advance serious and measurable drug demand reduction goals, while fostering cooperation on intelligence and investigating criminal activity. The United States will also work to strengthen civilian law enforcement and judicial institutions in the region by promoting anticorruption safeguards and police reform.

I will also support the efforts of our border states to foster cooperation and constructive engagement with the region. Arizona, for instance, has entered into agreements with its neighboring Mexican state, Sonora, to cooperate on fighting border violence and drug trafficking. These agreements have led to the training of Sonora detectives to investigate wire transfers used to pay smugglers in their state; improved radio communication; and better tracking of fugitive and stolen vehicles. The Arizona-Sonora partnership -- based on information sharing, technical assistance, and training -- provides an excellent model for regional cooperation on security issues. An Obama-Biden administration will support these initiatives and will work to integrate these efforts into the region's coordinated security pact."

While the Obama and McCain campaigns differ slightly in their emphases on different drug policy-related issues, there is more similarity than difference between them. Both refer to drugs as a "scourge," both brag about their anti-drug achievements, both support US drug war objectives across the border and overseas.

But even though there is much to unite Obama and McCain on overall agreement with drug prohibition, there are differences, too, some of them significant. While neither Obama nor McCain support marijuana decriminalization, Obama once did, until he reversed position during this year's election campaign. Whether Obama's flip-flop on decrim says more about his good initial instincts or his political opportunism is open to interpretation.

Similarly, as the Sentencing Project showed in a March report on the candidates' positions on drug and criminal justice policy, while McCain has supported mandatory minimum sentences for "drug dealers," Obama in 2003 told an NAACP debate he would "vote to abolish" mandatory minimums. By this year, Obama had slightly softened his stand on mandatory minimums, saying on his web site, "I will immediately review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the ineffective warehousing of nonviolent drug offenders."

Although Obama has tacked to the center (read: right) during the campaign season, other of his drug policy positions remain superior to McCain's. Obama supported lifting the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges; McCain did not address it. Obama explicitly supports drug courts; McCain does not, although he has stated he thinks too many drug users -- not drug dealers -- are in prison. Obama supported reducing the disparity between powder and crack cocaine offenders, even sponsoring a bill that would equalize sentences; McCain has not addressed the subject. Obama has said he would stop the raids on medical marijuana patients in California; McCain would not. Obama sees drug policy in the broader context of social justice; McCain has not opined on that idea.

Still, contrast Obama and McCain's drug policy positions with those of the Greens, the Libertarians, and the Ralph Nader campaign, and real differences emerge -- mainly between the bipartisan drug policy consensus and the three alternative campaigns.

For former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), now running as the Green Party presidential candidate, the Green Party platform lays out a clear drug reform agenda:

Law enforcement is placing too much emphasis on drug-related and petty street crimes, and not enough on prosecution of corporate, white collar, and environmental crimes. Defrauding someone of their life savings is the same as robbery.

Any attempt to combat crime must begin with restoration of community. We encourage positive approaches that build hope, responsibility and a sense of belonging. Prisons should be the sentence of last resort, reserved for violent criminals. Those convicted of nonviolent offenses should be handled by other programs including halfway houses, electronic monitoring, work-furlough, community service and restitution programs. Substance abuse should be addressed as a medical problem requiring treatment, not imprisonment, and a failed drug test should not result in revocation of parole. Incarcerated prisoners of the drug war should be released to the above programs.

Repeal state "Three Strikes" laws. Restore judicial discretion in sentencing, as opposed to mandatory sentencing. Stop forfeiture of the property of unconvicted suspects. It is state piracy and denial of due process.

Implement a moratorium on prison construction. The funds saved should be used for alternatives to incarceration.

We call for decriminalization of victimless crimes. For example, the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

We call for legalization of industrial hemp and all its many uses.

We call for an end to the "war on drugs." We support expanded drug counseling and treatment.

Likewise, former US Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), running as the Libertarian Party candidate, also has a strong drug reform platform:

Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make. No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government. Our support of an individual's right to make choices in life does not mean that we necessarily approve or disapprove of those choices.

We support the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment to be secure in our persons, homes, and property. Only actions that infringe on the rights of others can properly be termed crimes. We favor the repeal of all laws creating "crimes" without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Government exists to protect the rights of every individual including life, liberty and property. Criminal laws should be limited to violation of the rights of others through force or fraud, or deliberate actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm. Individuals retain the right to voluntarily assume risk of harm to themselves.... We oppose reduction of constitutional safeguards of the rights of the criminally accused.

American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world and its defense against attack from abroad. We would end the current US government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid. We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights. We condemn the use of force, and especially the use of terrorism, against the innocent, regardless of whether such acts are committed by governments or by political or revolutionary groups. [Ed: Presumably portions of this plank can be taken to have bearing on the US-imposed international drug war.]

Like the Greens and the Libertarians, the Ralph Nader campaign has a solid drug reform platform, as suggested by its title, "The Failed War on Drugs:"

The Nader campaign supports ending the war on drugs and replacing it with a health-based treatment and prevention-focused approach. Enforcement of drug laws is racially unfair, and dissolution of the drug war would begin to make the types of changes needed in our criminal justice system.

According to the federal Household Survey of drug use, "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." And yet, blacks 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%.

The drug war has failed -- we spend nearly $50 billion annually on the drug war and yet problems related to drug abuse continue to worsen. We need to acknowledge that drug abuse is a health problem with social and economic consequences. Therefore, the solutions are -- public health, social services, economic development and tender supportive time with addicts in our depersonalized society. Law enforcement should be at the edges of drug control, not at the center. It is time to bring some currently illegal drugs within the law by regulating, taxing and controlling them. Ending the drug war will dramatically reduce street crime, violence and homicides related to underground drug dealing.

But also like the Greens and the Libertarians, Nader has virtually no chance of winning any state. Most recent presidential campaign polls don't even bother to include anyone besides Obama and McCain, and the most recent poll that included the three minor party candidates, late July Angus-Reid poll, found McKinney, Barr, and Nader combined for only 10% of the vote. Nader polled 6%, Barr 3%, and McKinney 1%.

Still, drug reformers must once again face that perennial question: Should I vote for the major party candidate who is less bad on drug policy, or should I vote for a candidate that reflects my views on this issue? Not surprisingly, there is a variety of views.

Veteran drug reformer Kevin Zeese acted as a Nader spokesman during the 2004 campaign and ran for the US Senate in Maryland as the nominee of both the Green and the Libertarian parties. He still believes third party politics is the answer, he told the Chronicle.

"Until reformers have the courage to vote for what we want why will anyone else? Neither duopoly party will end the drug war -- they are not even discussing it," he said. "The better duopolist picked a leading drug war hawk as his vice president. No doubt many will hope that Biden will pull a Nixon goes to China and reverse himself -- but that is really blind hope."

Drug reformers, especially those in non-battleground states, should send the major parties a message, said Zeese. "Voting for Obama is a true wasted vote in a non-battleground state," he said. "We know how the Electoral College will vote in 40 states. If you disagree with Obama or McCain -- why vote for them in those states? It is important for these parties to see that people are not satisfied with them. If you vote for Obama or McCain when you disagree with them then you are sending a signal of agreement. Why should he change? If you vote against them, they know they have to change in order to earn your vote."

Veteran drug reformer Cliff Thornton, who ran for the governorship of Connecticut on a drug reform platform as a Green Party candidate in 2006, agrees with Zeese. "McCain will just be more of the same, and I don't really know what Obama will do," he said. "Let's just note that Joe Biden was one of the architects of mandatory minimums. If Obama wins, I'm afraid we will have to wait for the next election to see any progress. We need to be supporting alternatives, and a vote for a Green is vote for a Green," he said.

But for Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance Network, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, the differences between Obama and McCain on drug policy, while marginal, are significant. "In terms of reducing the harms associated with both drugs and drug prohibition, the difference between Obama and McCain is big," Piper argued. "Obama supports repealing the federal syringe ban, eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, reforming mandatory minimums, and shifting resources from incarceration to treatment. McCain hasn't said anything major one way or the other about syringe exchange programs or the crack/powder disparity from what I can tell, but has publicly made fun of medical marijuana patients and introduced legislation to essentially ban methadone."

While conceding that it is difficult to predict how either Obama or McCain would govern, Piper argued that an Obama presidency is much more likely to see drug reform. "In terms of seeing a wide range of reforms at the federal level over the next eight years, it seems far more likely to happen under Obama than McCain," he said.

Not likely, retorted Zeese. "Biden will be whispering drug war nonsense in his ears, and his past use of marijuana and cocaine will be reasons that stop him from doing anything sensible," he predicted. "The best we can hope for from Obama is benign neglect. There will be many other domestic and international crises for them to deal with so drug policy will not be high on their agenda -- that is good news -- because Biden is the source of most of what is wrong with modern drug policy. Hopefully, he is kept busy doing something else."

And, said Piper, Obama is not talking about ending drug prohibition, dismantling the prison-industrial complex, and putting violent drug trafficking organizations out of business. "Only Barr, Nader, and McKinney are talking about major reform. They're speaking for the 76% of Americans who say the war on drugs has failed. But they've been excluded from the debates and are largely being ignored by the media. I know a lot of drug policy reformers who are voting for one of them. I know a lot, probably more, who are voting for Obama, and some who are voting for McCain."

Who drug reformers should vote for remains a tricky, personal question, said Piper. "There are a lot of variables to consider, including weighing the possibility of important, short-term incremental gains against the need for long-term systematic change; pondering the question of whether or not change on the margin facilitates or obstructs major change; deciding if the drug war should be the only issue you vote on or just one of many; thinking about the political and cultural changes that have to occur to bring down prohibition and how this election fits into that; considering what state you live in; and wrestling with your conscience," he said, ticking off the issues confronting drug reform voters. "I don't think there is one right answer."

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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