Drug policy is popping up in Kentucky governor's race, but the discourse is decidedly last-century. Faced with a rapid increase in methamphetamine use in the west and the rise of non-medical Oxycontin use in the east, former attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial contender Ben Chandler (http://www.chandlerowen2003.com) and Republican nominee Ernie Fletcher (http://www.fletcher2003.com) have been fighting over who is "tougher" on drugs, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
As attorney general, Chandler helped create a meth task force established by outgoing Gov. Paul Patton in 1996 and was a key force in ensuring the passage of tougher anti-meth laws two years later. The 1998 meth law made manufacture a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, trafficking a five-year stretch, and simple possession a mandatory one-year stay behind bars. Chandler also helped create a 1997 prescription drug abuse task force that led to a tight prescription control law, and he claims credit for more than 300 prescription drug, mainly Oxycontin, diversion prosecutions. He also got high marks from Kentucky prosecutors of both parties, who told the Courier-Journal he did anti-drug publicity work and lobbied hard for funds for more prosecutors.
Chandler has promised even stiffer meth penalties as part of his anti-crime platform. In a sign of the political times, on Chandler's web site, drug policy and even criminal justice policy are both subsumed under the broader "security" heading. He is also now promising to appoint a drug czar to coordinate state anti-drug efforts.
That wasn't good enough for Fletcher and his running mate for lieutenant governor, former US Attorney Steve Pence. While out announcing the GOP anti-drug program last month, Pence said Chandler "has been asleep on the job." Then Pence blamed Chandler for the rise in methamphetamine and Oxycontin use. "On Ben Chandler's watch, drug abuse has exploded."
If Fletcher and Pence were taking the low road, Chandler was right there beside them as he retorted that Pence had once been -- gasp! -- a defense lawyer. "While Steve Pence defended the drug criminals in court, no one has done more to take on the drug problem in Kentucky than me," Chandler said. "My office has convicted more than 300 people on prescription-drug abuse since 1997."
Fletcher and Pence promised voters they would turn more meth prosecutions over to the feds, a technique pioneered by Pence in Operation Speedway, regardless of the quantity involved. As for Oxycontin, Fletcher vowed to increase the number of drug courts, tighten the state's prescription control system, and "empower community coalitions" to fight drug abuse.
The election is November 4, but from the tenor of the drug policy debate, there is little to suggest anything positive coming from either candidate once elected.