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How the 2016 Presidential Candidates Approach Addiction and Recovery

With the 2016 Presidential campaign season well underway, drug treatment policies, addiction prevention and marijuana legalization remain some of the most widely discusses issues on the campaign trail. This election’s presidential hopefuls cover a wide range of views on issues ranging from how to address opiate overdoses reaching an all-time high in the U.S., legalization of recreational marijuana and whether drug treatment is a more effective method than prison in reducing recidivism among drug offenders.

Here are where some of the Democratic and Republican frontrunners stand on the primary topics of addiction and recovery.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Hillary Clinton

Clinton is making drug treatment and drug abuse prevention a major point of her campaign. This September, she proposed a massive $10 billion policy plan to address the opiate addiction epidemic in the U.S. The proposal is centered around five key goals which include a boost in medication-assisted treatment (MAT), requiring all first responders to carry the opiate overdose reversal drug known as naloxone and mandating health care providers to check with prescription monitoring programs in order to prevent doctor shopping.

“Plain and simple, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing—and we must treat it as such,” she wrote in an op-ed that same month.

The Democratic frontrunner also vowed to end mass incarceration by instead providing drug treatment for non-violent, low-level offenders. Clinton has also vowed eliminate sentencing disparities for those convicted of possessing crack and powder cocaine, citing that the majority of crack cocaine offenders are African-American as a crucial reason for bridging the sentencing gaps.

However, she has remained more neutral on the subject of marijuana legalization. Although Clinton does not support legalizing pot at the federal level, she has remained open to legalization on a state-by-state level and has called for more marijuana-related research and studies.

What it means for people in recovery: Perhaps more than any other candidate, Clinton has a firm grasp on the fact that addiction is a disease. Not only is she making drug addiction treatment a priority in her campaign, but she’s also proposing better-financed programs for treatment and prevention instead of simply incarcerating offenders. Tied in with her calls to reform the criminal justice system, Clinton’s policies could also have a major impact on inmates having greater access to treatment.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Bernie Sanders

The senator from Vermont has remained one of the biggest advocates for ending the war on drugs. He cited the more than 600,000 arrests for marijuana possession throughout the U.S. last year as a clear indicator that drug laws in the country need to be altered.

“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use,” he said last month. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.

Sanders recently filed a Senate bill that would allow states to decide whether to legalize the recreational use of pot while also decriminalizing it at the federal level. Although it’s unlikely the bill will pass through the Senate, it gave Sanders the distinction became the first Democratic candidate in U.S. history to endorse full decriminalization of marijuana.

Sanders has called for removing marijuana’s current classification as a Schedule I drug, which would make it easier for doctors for prescribe and for medical studies involving marijuana to take place. He has also vowed, if elected, to allow states to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to tobacco and alcohol. Businesses in legal marijuana states would also be allowed to use the federal banking system without fear of being prosecuted.

What it means for people in recovery: Sanders firmly believes that nonviolent offenders should not be incarcerated and instead have access to affordable drug treatment. He has also supported legislature to allow inmates access to drug treatment programs while behind bars. Sanders would also likely provide significant increases to funding for these programs because he has acknowledged, particularly when it comes to addressing the heroin epidemic, that the U.S. currently doesn’t have the resources for adequate treatment.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Ben Carson

Unlike most of the Democratic frontrunners, Carson actually wants to ramp up the war on drugs. He told Glenn Beck last month that he “would intensify it…go down to the border in Arizona like I was a few weeks ago. It’s an open highway and the federal government isn’t doing anything to stop it.”

Although Carson acknowledges that there are some benefits to medical marijuana, he is opposed to legalizing it for recreational use at the state or federal level. The former neurosurgeon has also stated that he believes marijuana is a gateway drug.

“It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs – sometimes legal, sometimes illegal – I don’t think this is something that we really want for our society,” he said. “You know, we’re gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity and you know, it’s just, we’re changing so rapidly to a different type of society and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it.”

What it means for people in recovery: Carson’s views on addiction and recovery are more identical to Marco Rubio’s than any of the other Republican frontrunners – and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Although he will continue to allot ample funding for drug treatment programs, he will also use prison as a means of locking up low-level drug offenders and attempting to deter others from committing similar crimes.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Jeb Bush

Despite smoking pot during his high school years, Bush has opposed efforts in the state to legalize marijuana for either medical or recreational use, Last year, he opposed a proposed “United for Care” amendment in Florida, which would have given physicians the ability to recommend medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions. Bush claimed it would ruin the state’s reputation as “a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire.”

But while the former Florida governor spoke out against Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, he conceded that “states ought to have the right to do it.” However, he acknowledged being unsure whether states or the federal government should be enforcing marijuana laws.

In 2002, Bush opposed a ballot initiative in Florida that would send up to 10,000 non-violent drug offenders throughout the state into treatment instead of prison. His stance was roundly criticized because his daughter, Noelle, was arrested numerous times that same year on an assortment of drug-related charges and initially managed to avoid prison. She was sentenced to rehab before eventually being given a 10-day jail sentence in October 2002 after she was caught with crack cocaine at her court-ordered treatment facility.

What it means for people in recovery: During his reign as governor of Florida, Bush actually vetoed legislature-approved plans to provide funding for certain drug treatment programs. And while he allotted $5 million for drug and alcohol rehab programs for minors, he also imposed mandatory minimum sentences of as much as 20 years for minors convicted of certain drug crimes. It’s clear from his policies that Bush views prison as a method of drug abuse prevention.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Marco Rubio

During an appearance last August on NBC’s Meet the Press, Rubio made it clear that he was opposed to states legalizing pot either for medical or recreational use. He even vowed that, if elected, he would enforce federal law against any state that has legalized it. However, Rubio took a softer stance on medical marijuana and said he was open to federal legalization as long as it went through the FDA approval process and showed true medical benefits.

He has remained consistent in his stance on drugs throughout his campaign. Rubio addressed the topic of marijuana legalization during an interview last April on the Hugh Hewlett Radio Show, declaring that states “don’t have a right to write federal policy as well … I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country. When you legalize something, what you’re sending a message to young people is [that] it can’t be that bad.”

Rubio also penned an op-ed for the Washington Times last October that opposed Obama’s plans to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. He described the reforms as “careless weakening of drug laws that have done so much to help end the violence and mayhem that plagued American cities in prior decades.”

What it means for people in recovery: Because Rubio considers the War on Drugs to be a success, it’s unlikely that he would support reducing sentences even for minor drug possession. Even amongst the Republican set, this makes him the most staunchly conservative on this issue. However, he has spoken out against high prescription drug prices and insisted that there is a need to make life-saving medications more affordable, which could include the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Donald Trump

The Donald has slightly changed his stance on marijuana throughout 2015. Although he has long been a supporter of medical marijuana, he spoke out against recreational legalization during this year’s CPAC Conference by declaring that “I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about it…they have got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado. Some big problems.”

But earlier this month at a political rally in Nevada, he softened his tone on the subject by supporting recreational legalization at a state-by-state level. Trump also said that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana should serve as a barometer for how other states and the federal government should proceed moving forward.

His views on this subject were radically different decades ago, though. During a speech in Florida in 1990, Trump suggested that the U.S. legalize all drugs and use funds from those sales to create drug abuse prevention programs throughout the country.

However, Trump has developed a reputation for flip-flopping on a wide range of issues. It’s unclear to anyone where his stance on this subject will be years, or even months from now.

What it means for people in recovery: Although Trump hasn’t set a clear stance on his approach towards drug treatment, it’s clear that he sees the benefits of rehab (and second chances) after sending one of his Miss USA winners into an inpatient treatment facility in 2006. But because he has a tendency to swing towards whatever the popular view on a subject is, it’s unclear how that would shape his own policies if he were elected.