Drug policy made an ever-so-brief appearance at the tail end of Tuesday night's televised debate among Democratic presidential candidates, and the results were disappointing for drug reformers. When NBC's Tim Russert asked candidates for a show of hands to indicate if they disagreed with Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd's support for marijuana decriminalization, all except Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich raised their hands.
Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson all declined the opportunity to take a progressive stand on marijuana policy. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who has called for the legalization of drugs, was not invited to the debate.
Here is the transcript of the relevant portion of the debate:
Russert: Senator Dodd, you went on the Bill Maher show last month and said that you were for decriminalizing marijuana. Is there anyone here who disagrees with Senator Dodd in decriminalizing marijuana?
Senator Biden, Senator...
Senator Edwards, why?
Edwards: Because I think it sends the wrong signal to young people. And I think the president of the United States has a responsibility to ensure that we're sending the right signals to young people.
Dodd: Can I respond just why I think it ought to be? We're locking up too many people in our system here today. We've got mandatory minimum sentences, they are filling our jails with people that don't belong there. My idea is to decriminalize this, reduce that problem here. We've gone from 800,000 to 2 million people, in our penal institutions in this country. We've got to get a lot smarter about this issue than we are. And as president, I'd try and achieve that.
And then it was on to a question about Chinese toys and a question about what candidates would wear for Halloween, and then the debate was over.
Look for detailed coverage of the various Democratic candidates' positions on a number of drug policy issues here next week, with a report on the Republicans' positions the following week. But if the Democratic contenders aren't interested in even giving decrim an approving nod, prepare to be disappointed in their other drug policy positions, too, and expect even worse from the Republicans.