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California's gubernatorial candidates and the failure of the Democrat-Republican consensus on drug policy

by Damon Eris, published

By any reasonable standard, I would argue that the 40 year-old “war on drugs” has been a failure.  Among other things, this war has hurt the lives of countless individuals and families, swelled the state and federal prison populations with non-violent offenders, and led to the militarization of local police forces across the country – all while failing to substantially reduce demand or consumption at a cost of roughly $1 trillion to the US taxpayer, according to a recent report by the Associated Press.  

Unfortunately, Democratic and Republican leaders would rather cling to unsubstantiated arguments in support of the war on drugs than face the reality that the Democratic-Republican consensus on drug policy itself arguably represents a greater threat to rights, financial solvency, and the rule of law than the use and abuse of illegal drugs.  

Consider the positions of California’s Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates on the issue of marijuana decriminalization.  Last Tuesday, at a conference of the California District Attorneys Association, Democrat Jerry Brown categorically stated that he does not support the legalization of marijuana in California, arguing that it would “open the flood gates for the ruthless and deadly Mexican drug cartels,” according to a report by KSBW News.   Opponents of the failed war on drugs, on the other hand, argue that legalization would have exactly the opposite effect.  If marijuana could be grown and traded legally in the United States, the cartels would no longer have a monopoly on the drug market. 

Like her Democratic counterpart, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman opposes the legalization of marijuana.  On her website, she asserts that marijuana is a “gateway drug” and that legalization will lead to wider use among children.  “Meg is opposed to the legalization of marijuana.  This is a gateway drug whose use would expand greatly among our children if it were legalized.”  

As this is basically a hypothetical conjecture, there are few facts to back it up.  In reality, decriminalization has been shown to lead to a marked decrease in the use of drugs. Last month, W.E. Messamore reported on the effects of decriminalization in Portugal for an article here at CAIVN:  

     “Portugal has not only managed to avoid becoming a festering, unsavory trainwreck of rampant drug addiction and ruined lives- its drug situation has actually improved.  By all indications, the country has more positive statistics on drug use than any other in the Eurozone as well as compared to the United States.” 

California voters who seek a sensible and rational drug policy would do well to consider supporting the state’s third party gubernatorial candidates.  Unlike Brown and Whitman, who view drug policy primarily as a law enforcement issue, Green Party candidate for governor, Laura Wells, appears to view drug use as a matter of public health.  Under the healthcare plank of her platform, Wells states:  

     “California's medical marijuana law should be fully recognized and implemented by all the appropriate local, state, and Federal jurisdictions. The Federal government must not interfere with or downgrade duly enacted California laws on health care or environmental protections that have health impacts.”  

From this, one can confidently surmise that Wells would also actively support the implementation of Proposition 19, the Tax Cannibis Act of 2010

Though Proposition 19 would effectively legalize marijuana for personal use in California, some reasonably fear that existing federal prohibitions would lead to federal persecution of state residents acting within the bounds of the new law.  Chelene Nightingale, the gubernatorial candidate of the American Independent Party, argues that drug law is a matter of states’ rights.  On her website, she writes:

     “For far too long, our federal government has been trampling on states’ rights.  They tax away our citizens’ money then use it to bribe state officials to implement laws in areas where they have no right to meddle.  Such intrusions effect our: traffic safety, gun possession, education, drug laws, welfare, property rights .” 

Finally, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dale Ogden takes a strong stance against the war on drugs as such, addressing the issue as it relates to immigration, legal and otherwise.  Ogden states:

     “The prohibition of certain drugs for which there is significant demand creates opportunities for organized crime and causes problems with illegal immigrants engaged in the drug trade. It has also resulted in tens of thousands of murders and corruption of the police in Mexico. We need to end the War on Drugs for many reasons, including the immigration problems it creates.” 

It is not difficult to comprehend why Democrats and Republicans are unwilling to embrace a rational drug policy.  They are literally invested in the failed experiment of blanket prohibition to the tune of $1 trillion.  As with so many other issues, it is time we consider alternatives to the status quo.