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November 16, 2007 - Drug War Chronicle (US)

Presidential Contenders and Drug Policy II -- Republicans

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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. Last week, Drug War Chronicle examined 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. This week, we look at the Republican candidates.

How will the polls affect the drug war?Just as we did with the Democrats, 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). Only two of the Democratic campaigns provided even pro forma responses; so far, none of the Republicans have.

For drug reformers, while the Democrats are for the most part disappointing, the Republican field is downright frightening. With the exception of Ron Paul, most of the candidates embrace the drug warrior mantle, although, as was the case with the Democrats, drug policy reform is not playing much of a role in the campaign for the GOP nomination.

This week, the Chronicle will be using two 2006 congressional voters' guides, one from Mark Emery's Cannabis Culture Magazine and one from the Drug Policy Alliance. Of course, only three of the Republican candidates are congressmen, so we will be looking at other ways of determining the candidates' drug policy stands as well. We will also provide the grade given each candidate by Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project-funded effort to get the candidates on the record on medical marijuana.

Here are the Republican candidates and their stands and records on drug policy issues:

Congressman from Texas Ron Paul: Although he is a long-time opponent of the drug war and favors ending drug prohibition, Paul's web site does not mention drugs or crime. His "Life and Liberty" issue page is about his anti-abortion stance, while his "Privacy and Personal Liberty" issue page warns against the Patriot Act and other intrusions into citizens' privacy. Still, he has certainly done his part in Congress for the cause, including sponsoring the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, the Elimination of Barriers for Katrina Victims Act, and the Industrial Hemp Act, all of which are pending in Congress. Paul earned a perfect score from DPA, and Cannabis Culture called him "the greatest congressman of the 109th Congress." He earned an "A+" from Granite Staters for his states' rights position on medical marijuana.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani made his career as a crime-fighting federal prosecutor, doesn't mention drugs on his web site, but does take credit for reducing crime in New York City. As mayor, he presided over a massive increase in marijuana arrests as part of his "broken windows" crime-fighting strategy. He is also a foe of needle exchanges and opioid maintenance, having attempted in 1998 to force 2,000 addicts off methadone and into abstinence-based programs, a move which was ultimately withdrawn. Giuliani famously did a 1982 ride-along with then Sen. Alphonse D'Amato to bust crack dealers, and continues to play his "tough on crime" card. He earned an "F" from Granite Staters for not only refusing to say he would stop the DEA raids, but adding that medical marijuana is a stalking horse for drug legalizers. The pro-police Giuliani also smeared the reputation of Patrick Dorismond, a black security guard gunned down by NYPD officers after he refused to sell them pot, saying he was "no choirboy." Giuliani has consummate drug warrior credentials, and every indication is he will continue to burnish them.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee: Huckabee doesn't address drugs or crime on his web page, but the guitar-playing Baptist minister seems to favor compassion over vengeance when it comes to drug policy. While in years past, he has called for more federal funding for the drug war and stricter penalties for drug-related crimes, this year he has changed his tune. He now calls for more drug courts and rehabilitation instead of incarceration and has condemned what he called the "revenge-based corrections system." On the other hand, Huckabee has said drug education doesn't work because drug taking is part of a narcissistic culture and that Medicare will go broke once old hippies figure out they can get free drugs. Huckabee earned an "F" from Granite Staters for saying he would leave the question of raids to the DEA and questioning the value of marijuana as medicine.

Congressman from California Duncan Hunter: Hunter's web page does not mention drugs or crime, except in the context of the border, where he is a champion of fence-building. He has voted against federal funding for needle exchanges and medical marijuana in the District of Columbia and voted for drug testing for federal employees. A fiscal conservative, Hunter earned a 50% from DPA because of his votes against funding Byrne grants and the drug czar's youth anti-drug media campaign and for expanding access to buprenorphine. But Hunter also voted to allow DEA raids to continue and for funding for Plan Colombia, earning him a failing grade from Cannabis Culture, which qualified him as "bad for America and bad for California." Hunter earned an "F" from Granite Staters for supporting DEA raids on his medical marijuana using constituents.

Senator from Arizona John McCain: John McCain has nothing on drugs or crime on his web page, but has been a drug war hawk for years. He called the Clinton administration "AWOL in the war on drugs," said we've been losing the drug war ever since the halcyon days of Nancy Reagan, authored a bill that would bar federal funds for drug treatment programs using opioid maintenance therapy, and called for longer prison sentences for drug offenses. He's still at it this year, calling in September for a stepped-up war on drugs and harshly rejecting the call to end DEA raids on medical marijuana providers and patients. He calls marijuana a "gateway drug," according to Granite Staters, which awarded him an "F." He has on more than one occasion said that he disagrees with the law that takes college aid away from students because of drug convictions, but has never done anything to do away with it.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: On his web site, Romney attacked drugs as part of his pro-family agenda: "I'm concerned about the drug culture, concerned about the pornography, the violence, the sex, the perversions that they [children] see day-in day-out," he said, highlighting his comments at the Iowa Republican Party straw poll in August. While his record on drug policy is slim, this year he congratulated the Colombian government on its fight against "vicious narco-terrorists", and here is his meandering response to a general question on drug policy: "It's been disappointing to see the trajectory of the war on drugs. Are we making progress in some areas? Yes. We spend about $750 million in Colombia alone to help them eradicate the growth of cocaine there. We're spending a substantial amount in Afghanistan to try and replace that crop. Um, we're spending a lot to try to keep drugs from growing around the world. We're not doing a terrific job in helping kids decide not to try drugs, and that's one of the frustrations I have. People talk about medicinal marijuana, and, you know, you hear that story: People who are sick need medicinal marijuana. But marijuana is the entry drug for people trying to get kids hooked on drugs. I don't want medicinal marijuana. There are synthetic forms of marijuana that are available for people who need it for prescription. Don't open the doorway to medicinal marijuana." Unsurprisingly, Romeny gets an "F" from Granite Staters.

Congressman from Colorado Tom Tancredo: In the late 1990s, Tom Tancredo voted to prohibit funding for needle exchange and medical marijuana in the District of Columbia, but has come around on the latter issue. He has voted in favor of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, and Granite Staters gave him an "A+" for his states' rights stance on ending DEA raids of patients and providers. Tancredo got a 67% rating from DPA, voting against Byrne drug task force grants, for Hinchey, for cutting funding for Plan Colombia, and for expanded buprenorphine access. Of the DPA issues, Tancredo voted wrong only on not requiring drug task forces to ban racial profiling and on funding the drug czar's youth anti-drug media campaign. Running primarily as an anti-illegal immigration candidate, Tancredo's comments on drug policy issues have related primarily to border security -- he wants more -- and Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- he wants fewer. Cannabis Culture gave him a grade of "D," but still gave him props for supporting medical marijuana and voting against funding for the Byrne grants.

Former Senator from Tennessee Fred Thompson: Thompson does not mention drugs or crime on his web page, although in his section on building strong families he says he favors states' rights. But that position hasn't led to a clear stance against DEA raids on medical marijuana patients and providers. When it comes to that, Thompson's position is more ambiguous, leaving him with a grade of "Incomplete" from Granite Staters. As a senator, he voted in favor of spending international development funds on drug control and for increasing penalties for drug offenses. But he has also been critical of the DEA, arguing in 2001 that the agency had no meaningful performance goals. In this campaign, the main drug mentions related to the Thompson campaign have to do with the close adviser he was forced to fire after his old drug-dealing conviction came to light.

The Republican candidates are a mixed bag in the eyes of drug reformers, ranging from the excellent (Ron Paul) to the worrisome (Giuliani, McCain), but overall, the GOP candidates appear more hostile to drug policy reform than the Democrats.

"While we don't expect much from the Democrats, some of the Republicans are aggressively bad," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"The Democrats are likely to be bad, but would they be as bad as the Republicans?" asked Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

It could get bad even before the election, said Eric Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Drug policy hasn't really been much of an issue this primary season, but someone like Giuliani, for whom fighting crime is a major claim, could try to make it an issue either in the primaries or in the general election campaign," he said. "I'd be surprised if he doesn't raise the issue in the general, but whether it would become more than a couple of speeches at the Fraternal Order of Police or International Association of Police Chiefs, I don't know."

For long-time drug reform activist and 2006 third-party Maryland senatorial candidate Kevin Zeese, the weak drug policy positions of the mainstream candidates in both parties is just another sign of the problems with the two-party system. "Look at the most urgent issues of the day -- millions without health care, a record number of deaths in Iraq -- the government cannot deal with these crises, let alone things like drug policy where it is all too easy to just embrace the status quo."

The answer is not to give your vote to parties that want to continue disastrous, failed drug war policies, said Zeese. "We need to make those parties take notice," he said. "Someone will run as a Green, someone will run as a Libertarian. The question is whether drug reformers have the courage to vote their convictions, or will they instead vote for people who want to put them in jail?"

To varying degrees that does seem to include most of the mainstream candidates in both parties. The Republicans have Ron Paul, and the Democrats have Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. But the eventual nominees are not likely to be people who are so enlightened on drug policy as them or are willing to say so.

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