The Reality of the War on Drugs

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With the Democratic Party presidential contenders offering little more than tepid reforms on the margin of drug policy and the Republican nominee largely promising more of the same old drug war (look for an article next week on major party contender crime and drug policies), people seeking radical reforms in US drug policy are looking beyond the two major parties. Last week, Drug War Chronicle examined the alternative on the right, the Libertarian Party, and its presidential campaign. This week, we turn our view to the left, to the Green Party and the independent campaign of Ralph Nader.

While third-party alternatives like the Greens or Libertarians have not succeeded in winning large percentages of the popular presidential vote — the 2000 Nader Green candidacy garnered only 2.7% of the national vote, and the 2004 competing Nader and Green candidates combined for little more than half a million votes nationally — in a close election, third parties could throw a state’s electoral votes to one or the other of the major party candidates. Just to take one example, countless Democrats are still fuming that the 2000 Nader campaign cost them the election by garnering slightly under 100,000 votes in Florida.

“A third-party campaign could make a difference in a tight race,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. “In this election, it could come from either side of the political spectrum.”

While conservatives and libertarians interested in drug reform have the Libertarian Party, for liberals and progressives, the Green Party comes closest to a palatable drug policy. In its most recent social justice platform, adopted at the 2004 national convention, the party calls for — among other things — repealing “Three Strikes” laws and mandatory sentencing, an end to asset forfeiture for unconvicted suspects, a moratorium on prison construction, the decriminalization of victimless crimes including marijuana possession, the legalization of industrial hemp, and “an end to the war on drugs.”

“Law enforcement is placing too much emphasis on drug-related and petty street crimes, and not enough on prosecution of corporate, white collar, and environmental crimes,” said the platform. “At the same time, we must develop a firm approach to law enforcement that directly addresses violent crime, including trafficking in hard drugs. Violence that creates a climate of further violence must be stopped. Police brutality has reached epidemic levels in the United States and we call for effective monitoring of police agencies to eliminate police brutality.”

While the Green Party platform has its contradictions — it calls for marijuana decrim and an end to the drug war, but also defines selling drugs as “violent crime” — it is miles ahead of the major parties on drug policy. And the current crop of Green Party presidential candidates appear to be ahead of the party platform.

Former Democratic Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney looks to be the front-runner for the party nomination at this stage, primarily because of her high name recognition and national reputation. On her web site, McKinney says bluntly, “We want to end the war on drugs now!”

In addition to targeting communities of color, “the War on Drugs has become a war on truth, taxpayers, civil liberties, and higher education for the poor and middle class, and sadly, it has also become a war on treatment, addicts, and reason,” says her statement. It also “provides cover for US military intervention in foreign countries, particularly to our south, and that this increased militarization is used to put down all social protest movements in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere.”

“This is a big issue for Cynthia, especially as it impacts communities of color and regarding the prison industrial complex,” said John Judge, a McKinney press spokesman.

It’s also a big issue for other Green candidates. “Drug policy is a big issue for me, it affects my daily life,” said contender Kat Swift, a San Antonio-based political activist and former co-chair of the Texas Green Party. “I work at a homeless center, and we deal with drug issues all the time. We’re across the street from a park with a lot of illegal drug sales. I’ve also had friends and family members arrested for having a joint.”

Swift said she is looking to long-time drug reform activist and former Connecticut Green Party gubernatorial candidate Cliff Thornton, and his group, Efficacy for guidance on drug policy issues. “Cliff has submitted an amendment to our drug policy plank that would call for legalizing and regulating all drugs, and I don’t know that I differ with him on this at all,” she said.

For Swift, drug policy is a pivotal issue. “This is an area where race and class and even how we treat women and children is at play,” she said. “This is about the prison-industrial complex and keeping people in their class.”

“I am opposed to the war on drugs,” said contender Kent Mesplay, who came up in California Green Party politics and now serves as a delegate to the Green National Committee. Calling the drug war a “vestige of Puritanism,” he added that “it is, in effect, a war on poor people with terror for us all when we realize how completely the US government attempts to micro-manage our lives. It would be far better to have governmental agencies put money and effort into actually educating people as to the science of drug use.”

And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, Mesplay added, “Yes, I have smoked marijuana and I favor its decriminalization.”

Neither the other Green Party presidential contender, Jesse Johnson, nor the Nader campaign responded to Chronicle requests for information on their drug policy positions. Johnson’s campaign web site does not mention drug policy, nor does Nader list it among his “Twelve Issues that Matter in 2008,” although his web site says it is open for more issues and he has embraced drug reform in past campaigns.

According to the Green Party web site, McKinney stands alone at the head of the pack in the delegate count, but that’s with only three states having decided. The contest for the party’s nomination will be on until the party national meeting later this summer.

Once again, people for whom drug reform is a major issue will have a choice, whether on the left or the right. They can vote for parties and candidates who support their drug policy positions, but who have little to no chance of winning, or they can vote for a Democrat in hopes of obtaining reforms on the margins, or they can vote for the Republican despite their drug policy convictions.

[This article was published by’s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so. Writing staff attempted to craft this article with full journalistic integrity as we do with our 501(c)(3) publishing.]