Hillary or Obama? Mitt or Rudy? The candidates are spending millions to distinguish themselves from each other. Except on the Drug War, where they remain united in their silence about our country's continued flawed approach toward drug treatment and prohibition.
On every major presidential candidate's campaign Web site, you'll find their policy positions on diverse issues ranging from the war in Iraq to mortgage fraud. You will not find, however, a single reference to the Drug War by front-runners, including U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney.
These candidates are merely following a path of conformity that has historically served both parties well. The GOP remains silent in an effort to solidify its base with social conservatives and Democrats are quiet to deflect the perception that they are soft on crime.
While their continued silence doesn't hurt their electoral chances, voters deserve a candidate who can acknowledge our failed drug war for what it is-a multi-decade failure that costs us billions of dollars each year.
We simply cannot have an honest debate about America's social ills without first acknowledging our serious drug problems. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 22 million Americans suffer from drug or alcohol abuse. Department of Justice statistics demonstrate that 55 percent of all federal prison inmates are there because of drugs.
And too often, it's our own government that serves as the source of our problems. Want drugs? Find your nearest agent from Drug Enforcement Agency and you may just learn how to whip up a nice batch of the illegal stuff.
At a DEA-hosted event earlier this summer in Denver, invited residents were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at just how the federal government fights drugs. As part of the day, agents taught participants how to make methamphetamine. One can only hope that participants were screened for past or present drug addiction.
Agents defended this flawed public relations effort, saying that meth recipes can be found easily on the Internet. I looked, and sure enough, more than 44,000 sites popped up. An important question remains, however: How do you and I benefit from the government giving meth cooking classes?
The answer: We don't. History has proven the government wrong time and again in its hands-on anti-drug efforts. When the government says, "Just Say No," the public response is all too often to just say "yes." As a child during Nancy Reagan's anti-drug campaign of the 1980's, I lived this reality.
I first learned about alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, and cigarettes from law enforcement officials when whey came to my school representing D.A.R.E. -- an acronym standing for "Drug Abuse Resistance Education" pledging "To Keep Our Kids Off Drugs."
In seventh grade, my classmates and I giggled as we learned that it took three times as much beer than hard alcohol to get drunk. Wine was somewhere in the middle. Too much of any of it and you might start spinning in circles. Also, if you put special stickers called LSD on your tongue, you could start to see all kinds of strange things.
The program was little more than an advertisement for bad behavior. Students joked as they signed their sobriety pledges. Students are still having the last laugh today. According to D.A.R.E.'s Web page, more than 75 percent of the nation's school districts still participate in the program. Meanwhile, according to government reports, more than 6,000 Americans try marijuana for the first time every day.
By the time I made it to ninth grade in a new suburban junior high, local law enforcement sat us down for a more serious anti-drug speech. I sat in shocked awe as I held the marijuana pipe and bong the officer had passed around. What would my parents think?
This was the first time I'd ever seen illegal drug paraphernalia. For the officer, however, the demonstration ended abruptly when one of the students secretly made off with the pipe. So much for keeping kids off drugs.
From a fiscal perspective, the government simply cannot justify spending money on teaching people how to most effectively make or use illegal drugs. The federal government continues to drive us into debt with its irresponsible spending and our leaders at the state and local level have made a full time job out of convincing us they need more of our hard-earned money.
In Denver alone, taxpayers have approved 13 new tax increases in just the last four years totaling more than $280 million. One such increase was for a new prison-sold to voters based on the idea that more space was needed to house our exploding drug-using inmate population.
According to a report compiled by the non-partisan Colorado Legislative Council, the number of Colorado residents sent to prison because of drug-related offenses has skyrocketed nearly 500 percent in the last decade.
Likewise, a recent study by the National Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse found that Colorado has the lowest per capita spending on substance abuse prevention, treatment, and research out of 46 reporting states. While we don't have the money to treat drug addiction, we do have the money to send users to prison.
Meanwhile, if you listen to the DEA, we definitely have the cash to teach presumed non-users how to mix their own illegal drug cocktails.
It's time for a presidential candidate who will have the courage to "Just Say No" to our failed Drug War. Stop wasting our tax dollars. At minimum, and as a mother, I respectfully request that the government refrain from putting a bong in the hands of my children.
Jessica Peck Corry's weekly blogs are part of a new feature on NewWest.Net/Politics called "Diary of a Mad Voter," a group blog where this piece first appeared on Aug. 9.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.