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Feature: Presidential Contenders and Drug Policy I -- Democrats

With the 2008 presidential election now less than a year away, the campaigns for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations are already in full swing. This week Drug War Chronicle examines where the Democratic candidates stand on drug reform issues, and just what it says about the state of the movement and the prospects for change. Next week we'll cover the Republicans.
The Chronicle has sent each campaign a request for an interview and a list of questions on a variety of drug policy topics ranging from marijuana (decrim and medical marijuana) to the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity to the allocation of federal anti-drug spending and drug-related foreign policy issues (Afghanistan, Mexico, the Andes). None have yet provided detailed responses or agreed to interviews, but if they do in the future, we will let you know.

[Editor's Note: The Kucinich campaign has now sent a pro forma response and the Richardson campaign has sent a response saying "Governor Bill Richardson has a strong record on drug policy" and citing his medical marijuana record, but adding that the campaign cannot respond to the questionnaire.]

So, what are the Democratic contenders saying about drug policy on the campaign trail? The short answer is: not much. Most campaign web sites do not even mention drug policy. And aside from a question about marijuana decriminalization during last week's MSNBC debate (only Dodd and Kucinich supported it; Gravel wasn't there) and a few stories generated by Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, who have managed to ask every candidate whether they would stop the DEA raids on California medical marijuana providers (they would), drug policy has mainly been noticeable by its absence from the discourse.

There will be some discussion of that below, as well as some analysis of what the state of the field means for drug policy, but first, let's take a look at the candidates and their drug policy records:

US Senator Joe Biden: Biden is the candidate with the most burnished drug policy credentials; unfortunately, most of them bad. Working within the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden was responsible for creating the Office of National Drug Control Policy and passage of the RAVE Act, as well as supporting numerous bills to raise penalties for drug offenses. Biden touts his tough positions on his campaign web site. "Joe Biden has worked to increase penalties for dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of schools, created the Drug Czar office in the White House, and was an important voice in classifying steroids as drugs and has worked to keep them out of the hands of students," he brags. Biden also touts putting 100,000 cops on the street. On the plus side, he has introduced a bill to redress the disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses, as well as the Second Chance Act, which would provide housing, drug and alcohol treatment, job training, and other services to ex-offenders fresh out of prison. Biden does not support decriminalization.

US Senator Hillary Clinton: Clinton's campaign web site does not mention crime or drugs, and she has been relatively silent on the issue on the campaign trail. But during a July debate she responded to a question about high incarceration rates among black men by saying it could only be tackled by ending racial profiling, mandatory minimum sentencing, the sentencing of nonviolent offenders to prison, and dealing with the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences. She made similar remarks the month before, and has supported treatment programs and drug courts. She does not favor decriminalizing marijuana, and she has been noncommittal on ending the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs.

US Senator Chris Dodd: Dodd does not mention drugs or crime on his issues page, but has called for the decriminalization of marijuana as well as allowing medical marijuana. He has a history of voting against increased penalties for drug offenses and international funding for drug control, although he has supported Plan Colombia spending that benefits helicopter manufacturers in Connecticut.

Former US Senator John Edwards: Edwards does not mention crime or drugs on his issues page, but he adopted an apparently progressive position in 2004: "He also would have us shrink our bloated prison population and return its present members more successfully to society by better distinguishing non-violent drug crimes from other offenses; restoring abandoned treatment and training options; and re-enfranchising those who have done their time." Yet Edwards refuses to entertain marijuana decriminalization, saying recently it would "send the wrong message." He has advanced on the medical marijuana issue, now abandoning his 2004 position supporting DEA raids on medical marijuana providers.

Former US Senator Mike Gravel: Gravel supports legalization of drugs. As he says on his issues page, "The War on Drugs has been a failure. It is time to end prohibition and start treating addiction as a public health problem."

US Representative Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich does not mention crime or drugs on his issues page, but has taken a strong progressive stand in the past. On his 2006 congressional campaign web site, he wrote: "I agree with the many law enforcement officials and experts in the field that we must find a new way of dealing with illegal drugs. I have studied the issue for decades and recognize that our "War on
Drugs" has failed… Prison should be for people who hurt other people, not themselves. We don't jail people for merely drinking. We jail people when they drink and drive or hurt another human." Kucinich supported marijuana decriminalization during last week's debate.

US Senator Barack Obama: Obama's issue page contains nothing about drug policy. He has admitted to using marijuana and cocaine as a youth, but does not support decriminalization of marijuana. In recent months, Obama has criticized racial disparities in the criminal justice system, saying he would review mandatory minimum sentencing, the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and seek rehabilitation instead of imprisonment for first-time drug offenders. Last summer, he said he supports lifting the federal ban on funding for needle exchanges.

Governor Bill Richardson: Richardson does not mention drugs or crime on his issues page. As governor of New Mexico, Richardson fought hard and successfully to make medical marijuana legal there, prodded state agencies to actually enact the program, and has harshly criticized a joint local law enforcement-DEA raid on a New Mexico medical marijuana patient. Richardson does not support decriminalization. While he has at times called for harsh drug war measures, such as mandatory jail sentences for drug sellers (1996), and has decried legalization (2002), he has also consistently called for treatment and drug courts over enforcement and incarceration.
Drug reform leaders and watchers are not overly impressed with the Democratic field, but some of them see limited progress. Others are not so sure.

"Unfortunately, when you get to the presidential level, it seems the best we can get out of the candidates is baby steps," said Bruce Mirken, Communications Director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "If you watch the debates, with the notable exception of Gravel and Ron Paul, the answers are all focus-grouped to death. As far as the major candidates go," Mirken predicted, "the Democrats will be cautious and the Republicans likely to be aggressively bad."

"The fact that drug policy just isn't that big an issue in the campaign cuts both ways," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "On the one hand, that means nobody is addressing our issues. On the other hand, because it's not getting much attention, there are few opportunities for candidates to compete to see who can develop the worst proposals," he said.

"This shows that the candidates are still afraid of looking soft on drugs and crime," said Piper. "There needs to be a mainstream candidate who talks about drug reform and wins. They don't even have to win because of drug policy, they just don't have to lose because of it. Then the logjam might burst."

"Drug policy reform is still a minor issue," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "It's not a high profile issue because there are much more serious issues confronting the country -- war, the economy, education, heath care, taxes, global warming."

But drug reformers bear some blame, too, Sterling said. "Drug policy reform has not been able to find a way to frame the issue in a compelling way to the general public or to the key interest groups that need to be addressed in the campaign discourse," he said. "The drug reform movement needs to get out of its comfort zone. "It is a movement extremely skilled at speaking to the converted and quite content to do that. It needs to take many more risks to speak to undecided audiences in the terms that are important to them," Sterling argued.

Expecting progressive drug policy stances from mainstream Democrats is a fool's errand, said Kevin Zeese, a long-time drug reformer who ran a third party candidacy for a US Senate seat in Maryland in 2006. "You can't expect the Democratic Party to save the drug policy issue," he said, citing history as well as the current crop of candidates.

"I can't think of a Democratic president who has been good on our issue," Zeese said. "Carter gave a speech about decriminalizing, but then he sprayed paraquat. Clinton ran to the right by appointing a general to be drug czar," he reminded.

"Kucinich and Gravel are good, but the only candidate with even a remote chance of winning who has said anything positive is Chris Dodd," Zeese sized up the candidates. "The rest of the crew are pretty ugly: Biden is an architect of the modern drug war; Obama comes clean on his own drug use, but wants to prosecute people who do what he did; Hilary is good at avoiding the issue, but her husband's record is not a good sign -- what Plan Colombia would she concoct?" Zeese asked.

"The Democratic Party always needs to show it's tougher than the Republicans on issues like drug policy; they're afraid to do the right thing and follow an approach that makes sense from the public health and human rights perspectives, which is to bring drugs within the law and control them," Zeese argued.

"Some of us are not likely to have anybody to vote for for president," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "If everyone who smoked or has friends or family were willing to not vote for someone who likes to treat us like criminals, pot would be legal in four years or less, but it's a third tier issue. I won't vote for someone who wants to lock me up, but most Americans have more important issues, and they end up voting for someone who may be terrible on our issue."

There is work to be done, Mirken said, but some progress is already evident. "Our job as a movement is to convince them that the public is ready to start rethinking some of these laws, particularly around marijuana, where you starting to see solid evidence that the public is ready for change, as we saw this again this week in Denver. But that's going to require a lot more state and local votes; I think this has to bubble up from the ground before we see major candidates embracing reform."

Small signs of change are evident even at the presidential campaign level, Mirken said. "We've been focusing on medical marijuana, and this year all the Democrats and even two of the Republicans are saying they would call off the DEA raids in states where it is legal. That's significantly better than four years ago. And it's a little bit encouraging that at least two of them are willing to consider decriminalization."

Drug policy has been a marginal issue so far, but that could change, especially if one candidate or another decides he can gain an advantage by looking "tough on drugs." That may be more likely to occur during the general election campaign.

"The fact that drug policy hasn't been an issue so far doesn't mean it won't be used as one in the general election," said Sterling. "What if someone like Rudy Giuliani wants to use it to burnish his domestic crime-fighting credentials? Would a Democrat in the general election say 'Rudy, you're 25 years out of sync, we need treatment for drug addicts, not prison'? Maybe."

But the challenge for the Democrats is to appear strong and tough, said Sterling, and drug policy could be sacrificed. "The Democrats will be saying we need to get out of Iraq, but they may want to buffer that by being tough on other issues, like drugs."

Sterling is already looking past next year's elections, and other drug reformers should be, too, he said. "The next question is what will policies be beginning in January 2009," said Sterling. "Drug policy reformers need to be thinking about what real legislative efforts are possible, who should be the nominees to key positions, and whose interests can be mobilized to help us achieve our goals."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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This article is biased against Mike Gravel.

I'm a Ron Paul supporter, I'm not voting for Gravel, but I think that Gravel deserves more than two sentences about his views on drug policy. I realize Gravel isn't very high in the polls but it seems to me that an organization that openly advocates ending the drug war should give a little more attention to the only democrat who completely supports legalizing drugs.

shameless ron paul plug.

Whether you like him or not, by the end of the fourth quarter, Ron Paul will probably have 15 Million Dollars raised, and will have a helluva likely shot at the presidency, so if you want a candidate with the best chance of legalization, hop on board the Paul train.

Meanwhile... Ron Paul (R) has been fighting the WOD for 20 years

He's a MD, family man, personally against the use of drugs, and yet he seems to be the most sincere opponent of the Drug War among ANY party. Do any of the Dem's have as deep of an understanding on this issue? He was against the WOD before it was cool. See for yourself.

The Case for Drug Legalization
by Ron Paul, MD

(1988) Today in Washington and on the campaign trail, Republicans and
Democrats, conservatives and liberals, are calling for drastic action on
The Reagan administration has made these substances a special issue, of
course. From Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" to Ed Meese and his anti-
"money-laundering," officials have engineered mammoth increases in government
spending for anti-drug efforts, and for spying on American citizens.

The Assault on our Privacy
Our financial privacy has been attacked with restrictions on the use of
honestly earned cash, and bank surveillance that has sought to make every
teller a monetary cop.
In the name of fighting drugs, the central government has modernized its
vast computer network and linked it with data files in states and localities,
enabling the IRS, FBI and other agencies to construct dossiers on every
innocent American.
In the Washington, D.C., of 1988, anyone exercising the basic human
right to privacy is branded a possible criminal. This kind of 1984-think,
more appropriate to Soviet Russia than the U.S.A., has grown alarmingly since
Reagan came into office.
As human beings, we have the right to keep our personal and family
finances - and other intimate matters - secret from nosey relatives. Yet the
politicians, who are dangerous as well as nosey, claim the right to strip us
bare. This dreadful development is foreign to our Constitution and
everything America was established to defend. The politicians claim it has
nothing to do with taxing and controlling us.
In this, as in virtually everything else, the politicians are lying. In
fact, I believe that the drug hysteria was whipped up to strengthen big
government's hold over us, and to distract Americans from the crimes of
Washington, and the addiction to big government that is endemic there.

There is Another Way
Instead of spending tax money and assaulting civil liberties in the name
of fighting drugs - usually couched in childish military metaphors - we
should consider a policy based on the American tradition of Freedom. And I
know the people are ready.
I'm traveling full-time now, all over the country, and wherever I go, I
get the message loud and clear: Americans want a change in federal drug
policy. They may wonder about the proper course. But I am convinced that
here, as in all other areas of public policy, the just and efficacious
solution is liberty.

Drugs: Legal and Illegal
Alcohol is a very dangerous drug. It kills 100,000 AMericans every
year. Bit it is no business of government to outlaw liquor. In a free
society, adults have the right to do whatever they wish, so long as they do
not agress or commit fraud against others.
Tobacco is an even more dangerous drug. It kills 350,000 Americans a
year in long, lingering, painful deaths. As a physician, I urge people not
to smoke. But I would not be justified in calling in the police. Adults
have the right to smoke, even if it harms them.
From the decades-long government propaganda barrage about illegal drugs,
we could be excused for thinking that illegal drugs must be even more
dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.
In fact, 3,600 people die each year from drug abuse. That's less than
4% of those doomed by alcohol, about 1% of those killed by tobacco. Yet we
are taxed - and are supposed to undergo extensive other restrictions on our
liberty - to support a multi-billion dollar War on Drugs, which, like all the
other wars since the Revolution, benefits only the government and its allied
special interests at the people's expense.
Not satisfied with the present level of violence, politicians are now
advocating strip-searching every American returning from a foreign country,
jailing people caught using marijuana in their own homes, turning the army
into a national police force, giving customs agents the power and weapons to
shoot down suspected aircraft, and transforming America into a police state -
all because not enough Americans will Just Say No.
Politicians want to mandate random urine drug tests for all employees -
public and private - in "sensitive" jobs. Leaving aside the problem of
defective laboratories and tests, the high number of "false positives," and
the humiliation of having to urinate in front of a bureaucrat, what about the
concepts of due process or innocent until proven guilty? One of the great
American legal traditions, coming to us from the common law, is probable
cause. Because of the experiences our ancestors had with the British
oppressors, it is not constitutional to search someone without probable cause
of criminal activity. And this is a very intimate search indeed.
If this sort of search is justified, why not enter homes at random to
look for illegal substances (or unreported cash)? Not even the Soviets do
that, yet American politicians advocate something similar with our bodies.
The Reagans, emulating Stalin, have even praised the chilling example of a
child informing on his parents and urged others to follow his example.
The 1980's war on drugs has increased the U.S. prison population by 60%,
while street crime has zoomed. Seventy percent of the people arrested for
serious crimes are drug users. And all the evidence shows that they commit
these crimes to support a habit made extremely expensive by government
prohibition. Urban street crime, which terrorizes millions of Americans, is
largely the creation of the U.S. drug laws. That alone is reason enough for

Drug Prohibition in American History
All the drugs now illegal in the United States were freely available
before the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914. Until that year, patent
medicines usually contained laudanum - a form of opium, which is why - at
least temporarily - they were indeed "good for all ailments of man or beast."
First the feds - with the help of organized medicine - restricted
narcotic drugs to prescription only. Thus, physicians were still able to
treat addicts. Then the feds made that illegal, drastically raising the cost
of drugs, with the results we all know.
Yet about the same percentage of the population abused these substances
in 1888 as in 1988. In other words, some people will abuse drugs, just as
some people will abuse alcohol, no matter whether they are legal or illegal.
All the government can do by outlawing these items is vastly increase their
cost, and vastly decrease our liberties. But his is no bad thing to the
government. Government officials - from Washington grandees to the county
sheriff - get rich off bribes and corruption, as during Prohibition, and the
innocent pay through zooming crime and lessened freedom.
That does not mean, obviously, that illegal drug use is a good thing.
As a physician, a father, and a grandfather, I despise it. My wife, Carol,
and I have worked for years with a volunteer organization in our home town
that fights teen drug and alcohol use. But we do it through moral and
medical persuasion. Government force can't solve problems like this, it can
only make them worse and spread the burden to many innocent Americans.
The federal government began the modern war on drugs as part of its
efforts to destroy the 1960's anti-war movement, since so many of its people
used marijuana, often as an anti-Establishment statement. For the feds, this
was a way to jail domestic enemies for non-political crimes.
At the urging of the Nixon administration, which spied on and tax-
audited so many Americans for opposing it, Congress greatly escalated the
drug war in 1969. (Given all the evidence that the CIA has been involved in
drug running since the 1950's, as pointed out by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall
Street Journal and others, they might not have liked the competition either!)
Today, the feds spend almost $4 billion a year through the Customs Service,
the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and the IRS. State,
county, and local law enforcement adds billions more.
Despite all this firepower, today one in five Americans from the ages of
20-40 use illegal drugs regularly. Millions over 40 join them, and last year
824,000 Americans were arrested for it, including Elvy Musikka of Hollywood,
Florida. This elderly widow was thrown into jail for possession of four
marijuana plants, even though her doctor has said that without marijuana,
glaucoma will destroy her eyesight. All over America, the prison population
has increased 60% in the last five years, largely due to drug laws.
In spite of the immense sums of money spent on the crusade, drug use has
not decreased. Heroin use has stayed level, while cocaine consumption has
vastly increased, with about 5 million people regularly using it.
During the 1930's and 1940's, Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal
Bureau of Narcotics, whipped up the first drug fervor. Today the demon is
"crack." To Anslinger, marijuana created "drug fiends," and as a result
government violated civil liberties on a wide scale and imposed Draconian
prison sentences for the possession of small amounts.
The result was not, of course, the elimination of marijuana use, just as
the earlier Prohibition failed to stop Americans from drinking alcohol.
That "noble experiment" attempted by constitutional amendment and
rigorous regulation to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages. The "temperance"
movement called alcohol the main cause of violent crime and broken families,
and called for rooting it out.
The result of the war on drugs of the 1920's was disaster. Gangs of
bootleggers replaced ordinary businessmen as sellers of the now forbidden
substance. Notorious criminals such as Al Capone achieved their status
through their control of the illegal trade in drink, just as criminals today
derive much of their revenue from the market for illegal narcotics. Of
course, drinking among the public did not disappear, though adulterated and
poisoned alcohol led to many deaths.
However unsuccessful they were at stopping drinking, government agents
did succeed in suppressing civil liberties. We owe wiretapping to the
Prohibition Era, and warrantless searches of private homes were common. Some
federal agents, not content with what they viewed as an overly slow judicial
process, destroyed supposed contraband on their own authority. And as
happens today, government raids on bootleggers often resulted in shootouts
with the innocent caught in the crossfire. A government policy calling for
total victory, at whatever cost, over something many people wanted, meant
inevitable death and destruction.

Unseen Effects of Government Intervention
Today and then, one of the unexpected results of outlawing desired
substances is to increase their potency.
A uniform tax on gasoline of so many cents per gallon promotes the
production of higher octane gas, which sells for more and gives the consumer
better performance. A uniform "tax" of the danger of going to jail imposed
on making and selling alcohol during Prohibition stimulated the production of
such items as White Mule whiskey, with "twice the kick," as well as of often
dangerous substitutes such as synthetic gin made of wood or denatured
alcohol. It also favored the production of whiskey itself over beer and
wine. During Prohibition, distilled spirits accounted for more than 80% of
the total underground sales. Before and after the criminalization of
drinking, the figure was 50%.
In the legal drug market, the trend is towards LOWER potency, as with
low-tar, filtered cigarettes, decaffeinated coffee, and "lite" beer and wine.
But with illegal drugs, as with alcohol during Prohibition, the reverse
is true. Stronger cocaine, heroin, and marijuana have lead to more deaths,
as have the adulterated products which kill most of the people listed dying
from drug overdoses.

Designer Drugs
But what if the feds could seal the borders tight, and prevent the
domestic cultivation of all illegal plants? We would see a massive increase
in an already visible trend: "Designer Drugs."
These chemically engineered artificial substances are up to 6,000 times
as strong as morphine, and their toxic effects are bizarre and unpredictable.
They are far more dangerous than heroin or cocaine, yet the government is in
effect stimulating their production by focusing on their competition.
Unlike natural narcotics, a few pounds of designer drugs could supply
the entire U.S. market for a year. And they can be manufactured by the same
clandestine chemists who now extract morphine from opium and convert morphine
to heroin.

What if We Tried Legalization?
When the American people got fed up with their rights being trampled,
they organized and supported candidates who pledged to erase the Prohibition
Amendment from the Constitution. When they succeeded, most states legalized
the distribution and sale of liquor, and the criminal gangs dominating the
trade went out of business. The repeal of a bad law accomplished what the
indiscriminate use of force and tax money could never do: the end of
criminal trade in liquor. It would be no different for drugs.
If the use and sale of drugs were not illegal, the power of crime
syndicates now controlling these substances would disappear. These
organizations derive their power and influence only from the fact that their
business is illegal.
Though the benefits in the destruction of criminal organizations more
than justify an end to government intrusion in this area, a policy of
decriminalization would have many other good results. For one thing, the
users of drugs who now commit violent crimes to pay for heir "fix" would have
much less incentive to do so. Prices of drugs, now subject to open
competition, would drop sharply. Since narcotics are "downers," addicts
would have no incentive to act any different from "Bowery" alcoholics.
Instead of raving criminals, they would become street people.
Even addicts would be better off. The major cause of death is not from
drugs' narcotic properties. It is from poisoned drugs and adulteration. It
is impossible for the user to know how much he is taking. Illegality causes
these problems - the drug user can hardly ask his pusher for lab tests.
A legal market would be an entirely different affair. Just as a
customer in a liquor store need not wonder if his whiskey contains poison, or
what he percentage of pure alcohol is, the consumers of drugs would no longer
face a danger that is 100% Made in Washington.
Also, the use of contaminated needles by narcotics users has been a key
factor in the spread of AIDS. Through the availability of sterile needles in
a free and open market, decriminalization would help control the spread of
this disease.
But if we legalized the trade in narcotics, wouldn't we have many more
drug addicts than today? Wouldn't a lower price increase demand?
Leaving aside the "forbidden fruit" phenomenon - the fact that many
people find something more desirable precisely because it is illegal - the
law of demand does not tell us how much consumption will increase with
lowered prices. In fact, the data show that consumption of drugs remains
fairly constant under widely varying conditions.
Just as the sharply higher "price" of the escalated war on drugs has not
lowered drug use during the 1980's, legalization would not increase it. Just
as the availability of alcohol does not make everyone a drunkard, so the
absence of criminal sanctions would not convert everyone into a drug user.
Another important point: not all consumers of either alcohol or drugs
use them at problem levels. Most people who use liquor are not alcoholics,
and many users of drugs try them only occasionally. Most drug users are not
"addicts" dependent on their daily use.

What About Children?
Would decriminalization place drugs in the hands of children? No, in
fact, outlawing them has done it. Because of the severe penalties inflicted
on adult drug suppliers in the 1970's, criminal syndicates now use juvenile
distributors. Youngsters, even if prosecuted, are tried in special courts
which cannot impose severe penalties. Thanks to the government, pushers now
have every incentive to involve children in their business. Just as a free
society properly has laws against selling liquor to minors, we would bar the
sale of drugs to them.

Law Officials Advocate Legalization (In Private)
A few years ago, a friend was a consultant to a gubernatorial campaign.
To aid the candidate in forming his anti-crime policies, my friend assembled
a group of top DA's. All were glad to help, but they also unanimously
agreed, - off the record, of course - that nothing significant could be done
about crime until "drugs are legalized."
They will never be legalized, said one famous prosecutor, because too
many government officials make too much money off the drug trade: from the
feds to the county sheriff: "BILLIONS of dollars." These men were also
furious because of spending priorities. Every dollar spent pursuing drug
dealers and users who didn't aggress against the innocent was a dollar less
available going after criminals.

Bok Kwan Kim, a 49-year-old electrical assembly worker, lived peacefully
in a tiny apartment with his wife, three daughters, and 78-year-old mother-
in-law in Newark, California.
Then late on the night of May 12th, nine narcotics police broke down his
front door, handcuffed him and beat him until he was unconscious, handcuffed
his wife and shoved her to the floor as their daughters screamed, and
ransacked the apartment. Not one piece of furniture was left unbroken; every
pillow or piece of upholstery was torn and emptied of its stuffing. All their
dishes and porcelain were shattered. Only a picture of Jesus on the wall was
left in one piece.
Why? The narcotics police had gotten a false tip from an informer that
Kim had a stock of amphetamines. Why the beating? The police said Kim had
"resisted" the destruction of his home and few possessions.
Kim is still in the hospital, and his daughters have nightmares every
night. The head of the narcotics squad apologized, but noted that "this is
Yes, but war on whom? We now have Republicans and Democrats passing
laws - over the Pentagon's wise opposition - to turn the military into narco-
police, which arrest civilians. And if anyone's rights are violated? The
military narcotics police are to be immune from suit.
Under the government's so-called Zero Tolerance program, boats and cars
are being confiscated right and left. Recently a $3 million yacht was
commandeered by the Coast Guard because a few shreds of marijuana were found
in a wastebasket. The Coast Guard had boarded the vessel despite there being
to probable cause of crime. The owner was not on board, and his employees
were transporting the ship. Who did the marijuana belong to? It didn't
matter. A yacht - which an entrepreneur had worked all his life to own - was
stolen by the U.S. Government, and will be sold at auction. What's next? A
house confiscated because someone finds pot in the garbage can? (Now that
the Supreme Court says police can search your garbage without a warrant.)

Mises on Drug Prohibition
Ludwig Von Mises, the outstanding economist and champion of liberty of
our time, as usual summed it all up in 'Human Action'
"Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But
once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect
the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be
advanced against further encroachments. A good case can be made out in favor
of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government's
benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is
not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more dangerous than
bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad
plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues, and from hearing bad music?
The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both
for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic
"[N]o paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from
regimenting its subjects' minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes
man's freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away."

- Ron Paul, MD

Obama Website has groups lobbying for Marijuana Law Reform

I helped start a goup on the Obama 08 Website called "Obama Supporters for Marijuana Law Reform."

If you like Obama, and want to show your support for Marijuana Law Reform, I encourage you to log on to the Obama Website, create your own profile, and join the Obama Supporters for Marijuana Law Reform.

The Obama Website is very diverse and you can reach a great number of people through it's many local, national and special interest groups.

It is the best political website of any of the candidates that I have seen and allows you to network with other like minded individuals and have your voice heard by others.

marijuana law reform

I have never heard Obama say he supports the reform. where, when, how me. Is this a new idea of his? Do the candidates change their minds on this issue? It seems they can't make up their minds, or worse they only wait to see what's on the voters mind and then and only then have like minded views. Verena

Marihuana reform

Sorry pal but Obama has already stated he doesn't believe in Marihuana reforms. Remember, in 1938 under a Democratic controlled congress and a Democrat President is when marihuana became illegal. In 1971 under again a Democratic controlled congress marihuana was included in Scheduled A drugs that included heroin, cocaine, opium and other drugs that produce death when abused (not so with Pot) and finally in 1993 when Bill Cliton and once again another Democratic controlled congress passed a law on truck drivers on random drug testing which for the most part was successful against pot smoking truck drivers like myself and not against the truck drivers who abuse hard drugs like cocaine and crack which washes out of your system in a very short time. So don't tell me the Democrats are on my side when they have no positive record of support but instead have a record of punishing me for smoking a joint that doesn't kill you and a plant that has tremendous commercial use. Thanks, Mike.

Raising The Issue

The War On Drugs (WOD) costs U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars annually (about 70 billion, according to LEAP). That is a tremendous amount of money going into a completely failed policy, money that could be allocated to support popular campaign issues of our day (be it a change in government spending or tax cuts). In other words, we can use popular issues as leverage towards ending the WOD.

Candidates afraid of being "soft on crime" need to be reminded that in the eyes of the British king at the time, the founding forefathers of the United States of America were nothing more than criminals.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is an unfair law similar to the British-imposed ones that our forefathers fought against as clearly revealed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The CSA does not benefit our society at all, but creates instead a law that favor some (e.g. alcohol and tobacco users) and persecute others (e.g. psychedelics users), both groups otherwise being equal citizens. Such inconsistency discredits the rule of law, and that is never healthy for society.

We need to emphasize that the WOD is unhealthy for America, and that repealing the CSA and replacing it with an effective system of abuse prevention and treatment is healthy for America.

The mainstream media needs to be enlightened with regards to how massive a corruption the WOD is, how massive a story it is. Only then will a bright spotlight be shined on this very important issue, a light politicians and voting Americans simply cannot ignore.

We must find the powerful organizations who would benefit from ending the WOD (e.g. make money off its demise) and use their resources as leverage.

In short, it's all about leverage.


Dodd is neck and neck with Gravel in the polls. I don't see how he has a better shot, other than the fact that the media isn't censoring him as much.

end all wars

Maybe it's just because I saw him speak, but I really think Kucinich would have a chance if the media would take him seriously. He's actually polling 4th right now, and recently cane in second in a pretty major minor straw poll here in CA. So before everyone goes all libertarian and "every man, woman, and child for him/herself," I really encourage people to look beyond the Lillipucian and elven jokes (and his insanely hot wife), and honestly consider what a Kucinich presidency would look like. Practically I find most of his policies similar to Paul's (Paul/Kucinich, Kucinich/Paul independent candidacy anyone?), but their ideologies are worlds apart.

I think the best way to mainstream reform is to tie the War on Drugs in with the War in Iraq, and have a call to end ALL wars. If you think of war as an economic tool for the military industrial complex, it's really not hard to make the connection. End the government subsidies and contracts that keep the war machine operational.

Ron Paul

Spread the word VOTE FOR THIS MAN! he makes too much sense on the war on drugs issue

Republicans on the war on drugs.

OK, so you mentioned the democratic candidates' record on the war on drugs. What about the Republicans? Why do you repeatedly omit them, particularly Ron Paul. He has been agsinst this war.

My congressman, Maurice Hinchey has sponsored 2 medical marijuana bills. Ron Paul voted for both bills.

Malkavian's picture

It'll probably come later

Consider the title of this one: Feature: "Presidential Contenders and Drug Policy I -- Democrats" (my emphasis)

You Ron Paul cronies will get you time, already.

Had I been an American my vote would go to Mike Gravel. Ron Paul is nice, but Gravel seems to have a heart the size of a football.

Tie Equals Loss?

"I think the best way to mainstream reform is to tie the War on Drugs in with the War in Iraq..."

While corresponding with the leverage I mentioned above, I respectfully disagree.

The Iraq War is a very complex issue muddied by a variety of emotions on which approach is better (e.g. many argue that ending a war isn't always the method that leads to the least suffering).

Based on voting patterns, it seems that conservatives are the ones needing the most persuading when it comes to ending the WOD. Associating a 'war should be avoided at any cost' view (generally viewed as an extreme liberal stance) could create more tension turning off conservatives from even listening to the anti-WOD movement if the proposed tie is implemented.

Any leading Democrat candidate supporting that liberal stance is going to encourage Republicans (and even a certain number of moderates), who generally see troop withdrawal as emboldening the enemy and making things much worse for us, to strongly oppose both Democrats and, if the tie is in place, anti-WOD proponents.

Ending the WOD should be rightfully equated with a positive health impact for our society.

For example, the health care system would be a lot less burdened (likely reducing health care costs) if people could control their stress levels, as abnormal stress is strongly associated with a large variety of health problems and abusive behavior, including substance abuse. Replacing the WOD with an effective system of abuse prevention and treatment that prominently focuses on stress management education for all citizens leads to a healthier, more productive society.

Replacing the WOD in the aforementioned manner, allowing marijuana to be legal, is the healthier approach that also benefits farmers, many who reside in 'red' states. Let's reach out to farmers with this message, so they can help us project our positive message.

Ethanol producers are having trouble due to high corn costs (inadequate corn supply raises costs, and since corn is used in many areas of our economy, such a rise has a strong impact). Hemp is the optimal plant, so I've been told, for ethanol. If the clearly failed WOD stands in the way of giving ethanol producers what they desire, perhaps we can work with them to help spread our positive message.

And so, I correct myself with regards to leverage. Leverage is necessary, but great care should be taken when choosing when to use leverage, to ensure that we don't make things worse for ourselves, by further alienating those whose support we need to end the destructive policy that is the WOD.

The Elephant in the Room

If we get Universal Health Care, a massive expansion of Federal power (which all the Democrat's are advocating) do you think it's more or less likely that the WoD will end? Everyone will be responsible for everyone else's health costs. This is all the logic they need to continue and EXPAND the War on Drugs. With politicians responsible for our health, the chance of ending the War on Drugs will be ZERO.

"OK, so you mentioned the democratic candidates' record on the war on drugs. What about the Republicans?"

They DID say they're doing the republicans next week so let's be patient although I sympathize with your frustration. Ron Paul is having this "elephant in the room" effect... makes me think the anti-WoD movement is lagging behind the times spending so much time parsing the weak positions of all these other candidates when there is a true revolutionary that needs our support. I don't know why, at this stage of the game, they aren't already advocating for Ron Paul to their entire membership. Time is running out. There has never been a chance like this and there may not be again. This country is moving towards more and more centralized control. (Did you know the UN considers marijuana and other drugs to be a threat to civilization?) There's no way that we are going to be able to effect change at the local level without a massive shift in thinking at the highest levels. Only one candidate is advocating that shift.

Just once in my life I would like to see real progress made on this issue. Those advocating an end to the War on Drugs AND more centralized power are naive.

Malkavian's picture

On health insurance

I'm from Denmark, a country where we have universal health care for everything besides purely cosmetic operations.

Whenever drugs are mentioned it is correct that the anti-drug people will say something like "Oh, and then I have to pay for every hospitalized druggie? No way!". That would seem to support your hypothesis.

However, I have noticed something peculiar: that those anti-drug people are not in the least worried about alcohol and tobacco-related costs.

Put differently: when alcohol and tobacco puts someone in the hospital Danes do not worry about the cost, when drugs put a single individual in the hospital it's a disaster worth the expense of the War on Drugs.

It's the double standard that's really the problem, in my view. Drugs are evaluated through one (medieval) set of values whereas alcohol and tobacco is evaluated using more modern, practical viewpoints.

Such is the black-and-white ideology of the Drug War: drugs are evil (a word the UN convention uses repeatedly), alcohol simply isn't regarded as evil but just a risky substance like so much else.

Hemp And Ron Paul

Yes the obvious man is Ron Paul. I see momentum building so please add your 2 cents. He is the only one using the "C" word. Thats Constitution if you have forgotten.
On another note that is so forgotten is the uses of industrial hemp. The enormous complexity of of the Drug War must not omit the hemp issue(ie New H(e)mpshire). Hemp is th answer to the Green Revolution. The most highly evolved plant on the plan(e)t is purposely eing ignored.

On healthcare and the UN

First of all, the UN position is the US position. I've never really understood the notion that the UN is some sort of boogeyman that's planning on taking over the world. They're a largely symbolic and innefective international agency, and as one of the loudest voices in the forum, the US has more than its fair share of input. The UN adopted its prohibitionist stance on behalf of pressure from Anslinger and the US State Department. In fact, when was the last time that the US wanted to do something that the UN got in the way of? Bosnia? Iraq? Afghanistan? Vietnam? If we can change the policy of the US, we can change the policy of the UN.

Secondly, I strongly disagree with the notion that nationalized healthcare and the war on drugs go hand in hand. National healthcare could possibly be the most costly, peaceful, undertaking since the WPA. How exactly would any candidate, Democrat or otherwise, propose funding national healthcare AND the war on drugs? Drug abuse and addiction are essentially health issues anyway, and should be treated as such. I agree that a lot of people will argue that they don't want to pay for some crackhead's visit to the emergency room after punching through a plate-glass window. But remember, if that crackhead can get help and a clean source, he may not be punching through the window in the firstplace. Another thing to consider is the ammount of money that taxation and regulation of the drug trade would generate. Consider the recently failed expansion of the SCHIP program. Lawmakers proposed funding the program through an increase in the federal tabacco tax. This serves two functions. It helps fund the healthcare system, while providing incentives for healthy behavior. As marijuana is safer than both alcohol and tobacco, its taxation should also reflect that. If marijuana were legalized, I agree with the prohibitionists that usage rates would spike. However I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. If people start throwing bong parties instead of keggers, I think we'd see an overall health and safety benefit.

Philosophy of Universal Health Care

re: "How exactly would any candidate, Democrat or otherwise, propose funding national healthcare AND the war on drugs?"

It's exactly what they are proposing! The problem is the entire mode of thinking - that the government's role is to "provide incentives for healthy behavior". Healthy behavior reaps its own rewards.

And as Americans, we already

And as Americans, we already have the healthiest behavior. That's why we aren't seeing an increase in children's diabetes, heart disease, cancer rates, behavioral problems, and obesity like the rest of the developed world. Oh wait, I think I got that backwards....

There seem to be enough libertarians on here who can hopefully explain to me the philosophy of personal freedom and choice. It seems to me that someone should be able to eat four bags of microwave popcorn a day without the threat of asbestoses-like symptoms. Weight gain, cholesterol, and perhaps even dental problems (from chomping on the kernels) should be expected and the person should take responsibility for his actions. However when the 'secret' in Pop-Secret turns out to be a chemical additive that has been shown to cause lung problems in plant workers, how exactly is an individual supposed to assess the risks? You need to wake up people. The government isn't the only one deceiving you. If we de-fund most governmental regulation agencies as President Paul would have us, who's going to provide us with information to help make the healthy choices? Are the benevolent corporations on Wall Street suddenly going to reveal 'trade secrets' that may be contributing to the widespread health problems we're seeing in this country? Given the actions of the tobacco, pharmaceutical, chemical, food and manufacturing industries in the past, I'm reluctant to believe that self-regulation will work.

Anyone who thinks we don't already have incentives for unhealthy behavior had better take a closer look at our national food system. Why is it that the ghetto grocery seems to have the most heavily processed foods and the least organics? Crap is cheap. There's an economic incentive then to eat unhealthily. In addition to the economic incentives, a lot of the food we have is actually addictive. Those of you who enjoy a nice cold Coke-a-cola everyday, just try to go a week without it.

It's very simple...

If all drugs were regulated the way alcohol is regulated today, it is true that some people will misuse drugs and this causes problems for society. However, when the government tries to fix the problems by outlawing drugs, it does nothing to help society and ironically causes multiple time as much damage to society than regulating drugs.

Using you examples, I agree, junk food is bad. Does that mean the government should make it a crime to sell, manufacture, and posses things like Pop Secret, Coca cola?

While you may be right than organic food is better processes foods, do you think that we should outlaw processes foods? Should we arrest people who sell, posses or manufacture processes foods and put them in prison, or would it be better to let processes foods remain legal and sold in regulated grocery stores, as they are now?

I find it ironic that you mention a "ghetto" grocery store... the drug war, more than anything else, is responsible for creating the modern urban ghettos.

You could argue that soul food should be outlawed and given especially stiff penalties for making, possessing, and selling soul food because Soul food is very unhealthy. That's why we give extremely harsh penalties to crack cocaine, right? It has nothing to do with the fact that black people are much more likely to use this drug than white people. That's why 60% of the federal prisoners in are non violent drug offenders, mostly of them black, and most of them are mules or very low level drug dealers. The big drug dealers do very little time because they snitch on everybody below them. But federal law dictates giving the same penalty to everyone in a drug conspiracy that they would give to the person who is the most guilty, the king pin.

Black people are more likely to eat soul food. Is it a better idea to lock up black people for very long sentences for eating Soul food, or is it better to keep soul food legal in regulated resteraunts even if soul food isn't good for you?.

Then there is Milton Freedom economic argument: Whenever you outlaw something that there is a high demand for, like drugs, there will always be people willing to a risk and sell illegal drugs because the black market artificially makes selling drugs very profitable. The drug war ironically enriches the people it targets the most: drug dealers, and especially drug lords.

please re-read

I think you completely misunderstood my position. We are definitely on the same side of the argument here, but my point was that we shouldn't view the role of our government to be so black and white; legal or outlawed. I brought in the examples of our food production and distribution systems to illustrate how unchecked capitalist agendas already have major impacts on our society. No I don't think we should shut down Pop-Secret, or any other junk food manufacturer, but at the same time I don't deceive myself into believing that Wall Street has my best interests in mind. Another example from agribusiness would be when Monsanto sued small dairy farmers a couple years ago to try to prevent them from labeling their milk as NOT containing rbST (fortunately they lost). Basically what I'm advocating is honesty. Why do you think the restaurant industry lobbies so hard against nutritional information on menus? They don't want people to know what they're eating. I don't give a crap if the cheese fries I'm eating have 3000 calories and half of my daily suggested cholesterol content, but I think it's my right to know that information. Everyone should have access to the information necessary to make informed decisions.

I think it's fairly safe to assume that we're all on the same page as far as the detrimental effects the drug war has had on our society (I didn't navigate my way to by accident). The point of my post was to question the overwhelming mistrust of all government that seems to be dominating the discussion here. Yes we need to end the drug war, but as with every conclusion of war, you have to map out the peace to follow. Private industries don't have a very good track record at regulating themselves (by the standards of employee safety, quality control, and environmental impact). So if we manage to switch the drug trade from a black market to a free market, who will ensure quality? Yes the market will adjust itself, and people who sell a sub-par product will generally not last long in a free-market system, but those adjustments take time and effect lives. If we legalize drugs and cut back on all regulating agencies, as is my understanding of the libertarian philosophy, who will ensure quality of what we are buying? Right now we have a defacto buyer-beware system, and I personally think there's a lot of room for improvement.

The regulation vaccum would

The regulation vaccum would be filled by consumer groups and would take advantage of all the latest technology to keep us informed. I see a lot of room for improvement in this area too and it will come from the creative energy of the free market.

Capitalists protect their own interests by protecting the integrity of the product they sell. They can afford to pay punitive fines to the government but they can't afford to lose a brand which they've invested millions in creating over decades. The confidence I feel when I pop a pill or pop some popcorn doesn't come from the false idea that government inspectors are testing my food and drugs. It comes from the idea that the corporations are greedy and will protect their brand with a lot more zeal then any government employee.

I too found the Monsanto thing insane, but that was an example of a corporation trying to step on other people's rights through a regulatory agency. I believe you should always be able to write factual statements on your product's label. Let the buyers decide whether it's relevant. The government's role should be limited to protecting us from fraud.

If you believe you have a "right" to know what's in the french fries you're eating then you are free to assert that right by not eating them.

Big Issue

"Drug policy reform is still a minor issue," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "It's not a high profile issue because there are much more serious issues confronting the country -- war, the economy, education, heath care, taxes, global warming."

Funny, I thought archaic drug policies were a hindrance to solving all of those issues.


so many people see drug reform at best as a lifestyle choice, and at worst ...well i would hate to speculate about how to make the system worse than we already have. as long as people hold onto the belief that it's a low priority, we won't be able to solve the issues of which Mr. Sterling spoke.

Mike Gravel is Still Running !

See Mike Gravel's video, "Mike Gravel on the Drug War"

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