Editorial: Back Home in Indiana 9/3/04

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David Borden
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

Marijuana has reared its head in politics once again, this time in the conservative midwestern state of Indiana. Mitch Daniels, former director of the Office of Management and Budget for George W. Bush, now back in Indiana as the Republican challenger for governor, has acknowledged incurring a marijuana-related conviction while studying at Princeton in 1970, while incumbent Democratic governor Joe Kernan has admitted to having smoked the plant, a few times at least, in his twenties.

The revelations have led to a discussion in the state's media of the drug provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA), a law written by an Indiana congressman that takes financial aid away from students because of drug convictions. Should today's young people who lack the personal financial resources of members of the elite like Daniels and Kernan, and who have already been punished once through the criminal justice system, be forced out of school and potentially see their careers derailed -- for doing something that Daniels and Kernan and millions of other people did in their youths as well? Should anyone be punished for using drugs, if they don't violate the rights or safety of others in the process?

Neither candidate has come through the episode unblemished. Not because of their past conduct -- 34 years is long enough for most voters to forgive and forget, regardless of how they feel about marijuana or other drug use. Kernan takes a hit from this because it was his campaign that brought up Daniels' decades-old minor college incident in the first place; yet it took reporters' questions to elicit an admission of his own marijuana past. Hopefully the fact of past marijuana use and even a conviction will be a short-lived angle that impacts the campaigns not at all.

Daniels is stained by the hypocrisy angle; his response to inquiries about the HEA drug provision was that he is for consequences. Never mind that he is consigning young people of today to suffer consequences he did not have to live through himself, and which he probably would be in a position avoid if it happened with the law in place today. Kernan's response was better in that regard, in that it at least hinted he might be supportive of repeal. But it did so only vaguely, with plenty of room to wriggle out if it's politically expedient.

Both of these politicians should address this law head-on, and there are only two responses they can provide that take responsibility and make sense. One is that it is a bad law that should be repealed. The other is that they, having indulged in their own pasts, deserved to be forced out of school for it -- and that if they had, it's unlikely they would have ascended to the heights of political leadership they've since attained. And if the latter, they should further conclude that Indiana and the nation would have been better off if that is what had happened. After all, if it's a good law now for the poor and middle class, a law that makes the United States a better place, then it was a good idea then too, even for the privileged.

What drug was used by whom long ago, and who got caught for it, is not an important political question. How politicians design the law to deal with other people, for having done the same things they did, that is very important. That is a question about both policy and character. Daniels and Kernan haven't gotten off to stellar beginnings on this, but there is still time. We'll see what happens.

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Issue #352, 9/3/04 Editorial: Back Home in Indiana | In Indiana, Gubernatorial Candidates' College Marijuana Use Provides Opening for Discussion of Higher Education Act Drug Provision | Outgoing New Jersey Governor Calls for Needle Access Legislation | Kentucky's New Drug Strategy: More of the Same, Plus a Drug Czar | Montana Moving Toward Appointing a Drug Czar? | Newsbrief: Alaska Supreme Court Restricts Marijuana Search Warrants | Newsbrief: European Drug Reformers Seek More Dialogue with European Union, Funding for Permanent Dialogue | Newsbrief: House Speaker Dennis Hastert Defames Drug Reform Funder Soros, New Jersey DA Joins Smear Campaign | Newsbrief: Human Rights Watch Calls on Schwarzenneger to Sign Needle Access Bills | Newsbrief: Marijuana Policy Ads Return to DC Following Court Victory | Newsbrief: Safe Crack-Smoking Kits Distributed in Winnipeg | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Ninety-nine Percent of All Marijuana Eradicated in US is Feral Hemp, Federal Data Reveals | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar
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