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Drug Policy & The 2016 Presidential Race

The Presidential 180 Concerning Addiction

The trend of presidential candidates keeping reticent about addiction has finally ceased.

It’s amazing at how quickly an issue can escalate from being proverbially swept under the rug to now forming a central point of contention and debate among the six front-running presidential candidates.  Once considered a taboo subject to be avoided at all costs, addiction has now taken center stage.  Here is an analysis of each of the candidates political stances on the newfound lightning-rod of an issue.

Hillary Clinton

At the 2015 CNN Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas Clinton was asked a follow up question to her prior reluctance to take a side regarding the recreational marijuana reform policy.  Clinton had previously taken the position of waiting until more consensus from other states came in before taking a committed stance.

“I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today. I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief. So, I think we’re just at the beginning, but I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana. Therefore, we need more states, cities, and the federal government to begin to address this so that we don’t have this terrible result of a huge population in our prisons for nonviolent, low-level offenses that are primarily due to marijuana.”

Due to incessant grilling by the media, reporters and voters on the campaign trail in September Clinton unveiled a 10 billion dollar program aimed at battling drug and alcohol addiction.  

In an op-ed piece for the New Hampshire Union-Leader Clinton wrote, “This is not new.  We’re not just now ‘discovering’ this problem. But we should be saying enough is enough. It’s time we recognize as a nation that for too long, we have had a quiet epidemic on our hands. Plain and simple, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing—and we must treat it as such.”

The plan would dole out $7.5 billion in funding for states to begin building programs to address drug and alcohol abuse.  Furthermore, the plan would ensure first responders have access to naloxone, the antidote that helps mitigate and reverse the effects of heroin in the midst of an overdose.  Other hallmarks of the plan would be to educate health-care professionals on the potential for prescription abuse by patients and also keep low- level nonviolent drug offenders out of jail and into substance abuse facilities.  

 Donald Trump

Over the years Trump has had a very wishy washy track record concerning drug policy. In 1990 he boldly declared legalizing drugs and keeping the proceeds go towards drug education.  As he put it, “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” In his autobiography released in 2000, The America We Deserve he submitted that he never once experienced with drugs of any kind.  “I’ve never taken drugs of any kind, never had a glass of alcohol. Never had a cigarette, never had a cup of coffee.”

His abstainment from drugs and alcohol likely has to do with the premature death of his brother due to extreme alcoholism.  His brother made him vow never to smoke or drink and he has maintained that he has honored this sacred covenant with his departed sibling never touching drugs or alcohol due to this very day.  

Fast forward some years to the impending marijuana reform policy of the day he wasn’t particularly supportive of marijuana legalization. At the 2015 CPAC conference in reply to a query about marijuana legalization, he said, “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”

However he has since wavered on marijuana reform stating that individual states should come to the conclusion on their own accord.  At a Republican presidential rally in Nevada he went on the record as saying, “I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” as reported by The Washington Post.

In regards to harder drugs like heroin Trump has a rather dismissive attitude characteristic of his stance on immigration, essentially building a wall was his solution.  This indifference on Trump’s part is rather disconcerting especially given the growing problem heroin has become.  

Ted Cruz

Such as the case with Trump, Cruz has made a correlation with the drug problem and border security. This past January he made the allusion that the trafficking coming from the Mexican border is largely at fault and that cracking down with more stringent border security measures is likely to be the remedy.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice in which the presidential contendors wrote essays for the New York University School of Law, Cruz wrote the following excerpt:

“Given the undeniable costs and dubious benefits of mass, longterm incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, Congress should take steps to give judges more flexibility in sentencing those offenders. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, which was introduced by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and of which I am an original cosponsor, is a significant stride in that direction. Among other things, the bill lowers minimum sentences, cutting them in half, to give judges more flexibility in determining the appropriate sentence based on the unique facts and circumstances of each case.”

Cruz has also had difficulty in connecting on a personal level with with constituents.  Carly Fiorina has been more vocal regarding her family member’s struggle with addiction and as it seems Cruz has his own closet full of demons when it comes to addiction.   

As it turns out Cruz’s older sister Miriam had a long battle with drug addiction that she unfortunately lost.  Cruz has been reluctant to open up about her battle only stating, “ she made some foolish decisions, over and over.”  

It would be great to see Cruz provide a little more personal insight into this family tragedy and how he could possibly use it in a productive manner to shed more light on the perils of substance abuse.  

Regardless of what candidate you are leaning towards it is important to note that they all have a track record of skirting the issue one way or another.  Stay tuned for our second installment in this series covering the other contenders viewpoints regarding drug and alcohol addiction.





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