Ralph Nader won the Green Party presidential nomination at the party's national convention in Denver last weekend and, in keeping with the party's platform, used his coronation to speak out in general against the war on drugs.
As part of a lengthy acceptance speech, Nader criticized the criminal justice system for locking up minorities involved in drugs in disproportionate numbers while letting corporations and their executives roam free:
"At home our criminal justice system, being increasingly driven by the corporate prison industry that wants ever more customers, grossly discriminates against minorities and is greatly distorted by the extremely expensive and failed war on drugs. These prisons often become finishing schools for criminal recidivists. At the same time, the criminal justice system excludes criminally behaving corporations and their well defended executives," said Nader.
But the candidate was silent on a number of other drug reform planks in the party platform. These include:
Nader allies, however, claim he opposes the drug war. One of the convention's organizers, Dean Myerson of the Colorado Green Party, told DRCNet, "Nader has come out against the drug war; he is in favor of treating addiction as a medical issue, he is in favor of the industrial use of hemp and the medicinal use of marijuana. He has said this publicly."
Myerson added that Nader told him that drug policy was the most popular issue when he speaks on college campuses.
Not all Greens were so sanguine about Nader's drug politics. Some of them nominated counterculture hero Stephen Gaskin for the presidential slot in an effort to prod Nader on drug policy issues. Gaskin, the author of Marijuana Spirituality, is best known as the founder of The Farm, a Tennessee commune originally peopled in the early 1970s by a band of San Francisco hippies. The Farm is still in operation.
According to Gaskin, consumer advocate par excellence Nader won't campaign on drug policy reform because, "He's hung up on pot being a faulty consumer product that is dangerous to the consumer. During one of our conversations he told me, 'I'm kind of straitlaced. I'm afraid marijuana, cocaine and heroin hurt people.' Just the fact they got to him enough that he put [those three drugs] in the same breath showed he needed more information," Gaskin said.
Gaskin conceded that Nader opposes mandatory minimums, but he argued that Nader is steering away from drug policy because he fears that drug policy will alienate more people than it will bring into his campaign.
"Ralph is a little like Al Gore and a little like George Bush in that they figure it is the political kiss of death and they're afraid to touch it," Gaskin continued. "They need to understand there are more people sympathetic to that cause than there are on the religious right."
Myerson, however, scoffs at Gaskin's views. Saying that the party is solidly behind Nader, he added that, "Early on we pursued a number of people to accept our nomination. I don't think that was done out of any frustration with Ralph Nader. Stephen Gaskin was approached by some Greens before Ralph had made a final decision to run. I don't think it had anything to do with Ralph's position on issues."
Clearly, the Greens are solidly behind Nader. The question remains, is Nader solidly behind the party platform?
(DRCNet will cover another third party's positions on drug policy next week, the Libertarians.)