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 Gary 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.
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.)
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.
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 products.
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.
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
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.
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
Conservatism: 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
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.
Neither the Bush campaign (http://www.georgewbush.com) nor the Republican Party platform (http://www.gop.com/media/2004platform.pdf) has 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:
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.
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
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.
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.
Laundering: 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."
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 policy advisor.
Marijuana: 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.
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."
While the Democratic Party platform (http://www.democrats.org/pdfs/2004platform.pdf) 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.
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