As part of a set of articles
covering drug policy in the presidential campaign, we here examine the
respective records of President George W. Bush and his challenger, Democratic
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. While both independent candidate
Ralph Nader and Libertarian Party nominee Michael Badnarik have responded
to interview requests, we did not bother to seek interviews with either
Kerry or Bush because it seemed too unlikely that either would grant one.
And since neither the Kerry nor the Bush campaigns responded to DRCNet
requests for comment this week, we will have to rely on their platform
positions and their records to examine where they stand on drug policy.
When President Bush came
to office in January 2001, some drug reformers dared to hope he would be
amenable to change, especially given his campaign comments suggesting he
would rethink mandatory minimum sentencing and that medical marijuana could
perhaps be handled as a states' rights issue. But as president, George
W. Bush has reverted to the tough "law and order" politics on which he
has based his political career.
With a few exceptions, however,
President Bush has not radically deepened the war on drugs, but has instead
largely adopted the course of his predecessors, both Republican and Democrat.
Instead of adopting broad changes, for better or for worse, the Bush administration
has tweaked its drug policy to emphasize what it has identified as the
issues of the day.
Of possibly greater significance
is Bush's support for the bipartisan movement to expand efforts to assist
prisoners with the process of reentry to society. Within this context,
as well as within the pending reauthorizations of the Higher Education
Act (HEA) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the administration
favors a partial reform to the HEA's anti drug provision to limit its applicability
to those students who were in school and receiving federal financial aid
at the time of their drug offenses.
The Drug-Fighting Budget:
The Bush administration has presided over modest increases in funding for
the federal war on drugs while maintaining the rough 2-to-1 ratio of spending
on enforcement over spending on treatment and prevention. (It did,
however, attempt to distort this pattern by budgetary legerdemain; in the
fiscal year 2004 budget it removed the costs of incarcerating federal drug
prisoners from the mix, giving the misleading impression that treatment
and prevention had increased as a proportion of the federal anti-drug budget.)
The War on Medical Marijuana:
Under Attorney General John Ashcroft and drug czar John Walters, the Bush
administration has fought a desperate rearguard action against medical
marijuana users and providers in the states where it is legal. While
the Clinton administration also opposed medical marijuana, it was only
under President Bush that the Justice Dept. unleashed the full weight of
criminal law against the medical marijuana movement.
Holding the Line Against Hemp:
Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA) spent three years and untold taxpayer dollars in a vicious, ridiculous,
and ultimately failed effort to block the sale and use of hemp-based food
Attempting to Block Drug Reform
in Other Countries: The Bush administration has been particularly
shrill in its efforts to stop other countries from liberalizing their drug
laws. It has growled threateningly at Jamaica as that island nation
considered marijuana decriminalization, but most brazenly, it has threatened
long-time ally and close neighbor Canada with all sorts of dreadful consequences
(mostly relating to trade interruptions) if the Canadians have the temerity
to adopt a decriminalization scheme similar to that already in effect in
many US states.
Escalating the Latin American
Drug War: Under the Bush administration, the Clinton-era drug war
in Colombia has merged seamlessly into the "war on terror." As US
taxpayer dollars continue to flow into the Colombian morass, the administration
is currently seeking to increase the congressionally-imposed ceilings on
US troop and mercenary levels. But while the administration has been
rigid in demanding coca eradication as the centerpiece of its Latin American
drug policy, even spraying vast stretches of Colombia with herbicides,
it has also recently begun to show the faintest hints of flexibility, not
in Colombia, but in Bolivia. In the face of instability there, generated
at least in part by the US-imposed "zero coca" option, the State Department
last year increased alternative development funding and last week did not
scream when the Bolivian government signed an agreement with Chapare coca
growers to allow limited coca production this year.
Student Drug Testing:
In his State of the Union speech in January, President Bush announced a
new $25 million initiative to encourage school districts to embark on student
drug testing programs. Such programs have been found to be ineffective
in reducing student drug use. Bush administration lawyers have also
forcefully defended testing students before the Supreme Court and have
suggested that recent court rulings mean that random suspicionless testing
of any student may be legal.
Maintaining Harsh Prison Sentences
for Drug Offenders: While the Bush administration has, as a rule,
not pushed for harsh, new anti-drug legislation, as occurred in the anti-drug
frenzy of the 1980s, Attorney General Ashcroft has directed an administrative
and legislative offensive designed to reduce vestigial judicial discretion
in sentencing even further and to ensure that judges never depart downward
from statutory mandatory minimum sentences.
In addition to touting his school drug testing initiative, Bush's campaign
highlights as part of his "compassion agenda" the Access to Recovery program,
a three-year $600 million drug treatment initiative designed to "give recovering
addicts expanded access to a full range of faith-based and community providers."
He mentions a three-year, $150 million initiative to provide 100,000 mentors
from faith-based and community organizations to mentor the children of
prisoners. The Bush campaign also calls HIV/AIDS an "urgent problem,"
notes that Bush has increased domestic AIDS funding to $17.1 billion, and
vows to continue to fight the disease, but opposes liberalizing federal
needle exchange policy.
Neither the Bush campaign
the Republican Party platform (http://www.gop.com/media/2004platform.pdf)
have much to say about drug policy, or even criminal justice policy, for
that matter. While the Bush campaign sounds a bit soft and fuzzy,
with its talk of treatment and compassion, the party platform is hard-edged.
After citing the administration's "progress" in reducing teen drug use,
the platform warns that to continue this progress, "We must ensure that
jail time is used as an effective deterrent to drug use and support the
continued funding of grants to assist schools in drug testing."
The Bush administration has
an actual record in office, while challenger John Kerry's performance must
be assessed by examining what he has done in the past. California
NORML head Dale Gieringer examined Kerry's voting record in the Senate
and found it decidedly mixed:
While the Democratic Party platform
mentions neither drugs nor crime, the Kerry campaign (http://www.johnkerry.com)
does, and it plays up his "tough on crime" credentials, promising more
police and more drug war -- all part of the "stronger America" meme rampant
in both campaigns. "John Kerry and John Edwards will aggressively
target drug traffickers and dealers and provide funding for coordinated
regional efforts aimed at cracking down on drug trafficking," the campaign
proclaims. "They will also adequately fund drug prevention and treatment,
including innovative approaches to requiring treatment for offenders like
drug courts." Despite hints from the campaign trail that Kerry might
be amenable to looking at mandatory minimums or more kindly disposed toward
medical marijuana, there is no mention of either topic in either the Democratic
platform or the Kerry campaign.
Kerry was part of the congressional
mob that in the mid-1980s fell all over itself to pass one draconian anti-drug
bill after another. For instance, he supported the Omnibus Drug Bill
of 1986, championed by Massachusetts Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neill,
which created the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparities that have
seen the federal prisons filled with dark-skinned drug offenders.
To be fair, only two senators voted against that bill.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing:
In later votes, Kerry voted against mandatory minimums for selling drugs
to minors, for the use of firearms in drug crimes, and for the use of firearms
in state drug crimes.
The Death Penalty: As
a senator, John Kerry consistently voted against measures to expand the
death penalty to drug crimes, a reflection of his broader stance against
the death penalty.
Drug Testing: Senator
Kerry was one of only seven senators to oppose random drug testing of transportation
workers. He also voted against a successful bill by then-Senator
John Ashcroft to require random drug testing of job training participants,
and another proposal to require drug testing of welfare recipients.
(He did, however, vote to deny welfare benefits for life to anyone convicted
of a drug crime, even simple possession.) But Kerry also voted for
a one-year demonstration program requiring drug testing for drivers license
applicants and for a measure that would require Veterans Affairs employees
to be subject to random drug testing.
Former prosecutor Kerry has been very active in promoting legislation against
money laundering, arguing that "damping drug traffickers' financial lifeline
could be a successful tactic."
The Latin American Drug
War: Kerry has been a staunch supporter of the drug war in Latin
America. He sided with the Reagan administration in pushing for decertification
of Latin American countries that the US determined were not doing their
share in the drug war. He was also among a handful of Democrats who
voted to authorize the shooting down of suspected drug smuggling aircraft,
a policy that resulted in the deaths of American missionary Ronnie Bowers
and her infant child in 2001. And he has been a strong, consistent
backer of the US drug war in Colombia. One of the architects of the
Clinton-era Plan Colombia, Rand Beers, is currently a key Kerry foreign
Kerry last year signed a letter with fellow Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy
asking the DEA to approve the necessary licenses requested by the University
of Massachusetts to perform medical marijuana research. While campaigning
for the Democratic nomination in New Hampshire in January, Kerry said he
would keep medical marijuana illegal until research to complete the FDA
approval process was completed, but would not pursue medical marijuana
prosecutions in states that have passed medical marijuana laws in the meantime.
The Higher Education Act's Anti-Drug
Provision: Also in New Hampshire, Kerry said he supports "partial
repeal" of the provision. Students should not lose aid for simple
drug use, he said. "But if the offense is selling, no."
In the movie "Traffic," the
drug czar character played by actor Michael Douglas begged loudly for someone
in charge of drug policy to "think outside the box." It appears there
is no danger of that happening with either of these candidates.
-- END --
Issue #357, 10/8/04
Editorial: A Tragedy in the Capital |
Medical Marijuana Activists Besiege HHS, Demand Rescheduling |
Drug Policy and the Presidential Election -- Introduction |
The Election I: Bush and Kerry on Drugs: Past Records and Platform Planks |
The Election II: Drug Reformers on Kerry and Bush, Nader and Badnarik |
The Election III: DRCNet Interview: Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader |
The Election IV: DRCNet Interview: Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate (repeat) |
Newsbrief: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Critical Federal Sentencing Cases |
Newsbrief: Needle Exchange Bill Passes New Jersey Assembly |
Newsbrief: Protests Rise over Award as Thai Prime Minister Prepares for New Round of Drug War |
Newsbrief: Bolivia's Chapare Cocaleros Sign Historic Agreement with Government |
Newsbrief: DEA Pulls Prescription Pain Medicine FAQs Without Explanation |
Newsbrief: Hemp Crops in Western Australia Stymied By Licensing Requirements |
Newsbrief: Atlanta Cops Use Forfeited Funds to Buy Bigger Guns |
Newsbrief: No Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Charges, Tennessee Says |
Newsbrief: Texas DA Says Doctors Must Turn In Drug-Using Pregnant Women |
Newsbrief: Another Killer Cop Walks Free |
Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories |
This Week in History |
Administrative Assistant: Part-Time Job Opportunity at DRCNet |
The Reformer's Calendar
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