How to address drug problems in the United States has been an issue of great contention for decades. Almost every administration has changed the policies of the one before it, and few have seen much progress made. For this reason, drug policies are at the forefront of many minds moving into the next presidential election. Democratic views on drugs include the belief that race should not play a part in sentencing for drug crimes. The key to upholding this is to “nominate and confirm judges who are men and women of unquestionable talent and character and will always demonstrate their faithfulness to our law and our Constitution and bring with them a sense of how American society works and how the American people live.” They also believe that the U.S. needs to work with foreign powers to decrease the drug traffic coming into the country, and that drugs must be combated with treatment as well as law enforcement. The Democratic Party believes that increasing efforts on these fronts is the only way to end the drug problem in the U.S.
In recent years, the Democratic platform has addressed foreign drug trade and how to combat drugs in America, but has said little to nothing about the growing issue of marijuana. A recent gallup poll revealed that 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, and more and more states have been legalizing. It is expected to be an extremely hot button issue in the 2016 election, making it odd that Democrats have had so little to say on the issue in recent years.
Democrats and Foreign Drug Traffic
Democrats have worked over time, and hope to continue working, to increase cooperation with the governments of Mexico, Colombia, and throughout Central America to combat drug trafficking and gangs. This cooperation is essential both to increase success and because these countries are being harmed by drug problems as greatly as we are. Democrats also hope to see increased efforts to stop organized crime networks trying to use the Caribbean to smuggle drugs into the U.S. Democrats are adamant that these efforts need to be made in unison with, not at the expense of, Central American governments and that we must put as much pressure on internal drug sources as we are on foreign ones. The 2012 Democratic Party Platform states, “As we collectively confront these challenges, we will continue to support the region’s security forces, border security, and police with the equipment, training, and technologies they need to keep their communities safe. We will improve coordination and share more information so that those who traffic in drugs and in human beings have fewer places to hide. And we will continue to put unprecedented pressure on cartel finances, including in the United States.” The government also wishes to see stricter drug law enforcement in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Drugs in America
To combat drugs on the homefront, Democrats wish to see both stricter enforcement and better treatment options. Drug education is the first step. Democrats strongly believe in sending the message that drugs are wrong and can kill you to every child in every school across the nation. All schools should be drug free zones and strictly enforced as such, but should also have drug treatment available on demand. Democrats would also like to see drug treatment for at-risk youth expanded. At the governmental level, Democrats wish to see more drug courts in order to receive faster rulings on drug-related crimes. They also believe that the country should “double the number of drug hot-spots where we aggressively target our enforcement efforts.” Democrats also believe that economic hopelessness fuels the drug rings that thrive in America. Many farmers start in the drug trade because of the low selling prices and high growing costs of traditional crops. Therefore, the Democratic Party believes in finding ways to help those who have been drawn to the drug trade as a means of survival, stating, “The Democratic Party understands that no policy of prosecution will succeed unless it is combined with robust investment in alternative ways to make a living.” Democrats also wish to see a system that will allow more police forces to be on the street and combatting drug crime, and hope to provide them with “the best technology, equipment, and innovative strategies to prevent and fight crimes.”
Drugs in Prisons
Democrats believe that combatting drugs to the point of arresting criminals is not enough. Drugs need to be continually combatted within the prison system as well. Drug testing should be mandatory and widespread within the prison system. Prisoners with drug problems need to be properly treated in order to prevent their drug problem from feeding into the drug rings that are present within the prison system. Furthermore, breaking up these drug rings should be a large focus of prison management and enforcement. Many Democrats believe that prisoners should be given a very simple ultimatum if they are imprisoned for drug-related activity: get clean to get out, stay clean to stay out. This would involve frequent drug testing while in prison, and extremely strict enforcement for those who make parole. They also believe that, as long as the paroled follow these guidelines, they should be provided with help to secure employment. This and other prison-to-work systems, Democrats believe, are essential to keeping former drug users clean once they are back in society. In the long run, they believe that these initiatives will keep citizens safer and save taxpayers money.
Barack Obama on Drugs
Obama supports a science-based plan to combat drug use. With everything that science has discovered about addiction and its treatment, Obama supports treatment over incarceration for drug addicts, stating, “This Administration remains committed to a balanced public health and public safety approach to drug policy. This approach is based on science, not ideology—and scientific research suggests that we have made real progress.” While he believes that law enforcement needs to play an integral part in preventing the spread of drug rings, he does not believe in an enforcement-centric approach to ending drug use. He wishes to train health professionals to identify addiction before it is too late, and to expand treatment options for those suffering from drug addiction.
On the issue of marijuana, the Obama administration has resolved to be flexible about the legalization movements across the country. President Obama has maintained the country’s opposition to a federal legalization, but has chosen not to challenge the state referendums, as long as the drug is strictly enforced by state governments. Obama does not personally see an issue with marijuana,. In early 2014, he made a statement saying he believed the drug was no more harmful than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” While he doesn’t support the use of the drug, he does believe that its lack of harmful effects and widespread use should make using it less of an offense, stating, “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
Hillary Clinton on Drugs
Hillary Clinton, like most of her party, believes in trying to overcome drug addiction through treatment options rather than stricter sentencing. She supports more drug courts with shorter waiting periods, in order to divert non-violent drug offenders from the prison system and that we need to ensure that we are leaving race out of drug sentencing, stating, “Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system…And ultimately we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally.” One issue that Clinton feels needs to be addressed is the disparity in sentencing between users of crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Crack cocaine leads directly to prison for many whereas powder cocaine is treated more lightly, and Clinton believes that this needs to be dealt with, as long as it can be handled in a non-retroactive way.
When it comes to marijuana, Clinton was once entirely against legalization. In 2008, she spoke out against decriminalization, which is less drastic than legalization. This time around, she has yet to take a definitive stance on marijuana legalization, though she seems to be far more open to the idea than she was before. This past July, she stated, “I’m a big believer in acquiring evidence, and I think we should see what kind of results we get, both from medical marijuana and from recreational marijuana before we make any far-reaching conclusions. We need more studies. We need more evidence. And then we can proceed.”
- Democratic Party on Drugs – On The Issues
- Where will Hillary Clinton stand on marijuana legalization in 2016? – CNN
- Obama: Marijuana No More Dangerous Than Alcohol – The Huffington Post
- A drug policyfor the 21st century – The White House
- Hillary Clinton on Drugs – On The Issues