If you still aren’t convinced that lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum have radically shifted their attitudes towards current US drug policies, then you better listen to what none other than Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has to say. In a post on Medium, the former Florida Governor opened up about his daughter’s struggle with drug addiction and revealed some surprisingly left-of-center plans for drug policy reform.
In this post, he describes the experience of dealing with a loved one’s addiction as “debilitating,” while also highlighting that drug abuse is an issue that crosses “all barriers, all lines, all races and all incomes.” His daughter Noelle, whose addiction went public in the midst Jeb Bush’s third term as Governor of Florida, successfully graduated from drug court and remains drug-free to this day. However, Bush believes that current US drug policy doesn’t quite cut it:
“Some label the drug abuse epidemic just a criminal justice issue, and some try to make it just a health care issue. Both approaches oversimplify this complex and heartbreaking challenge. It is imperative to reduce both the demand and supply if treatment and recovery programs are going to work.”
He concludes the post by outlining his plans for drug policy reform in the US. This includes, among other things, strengthening drug abuse and recovery programs by promoting innovation and ensuring that funding supports evidence-based programs. He also plans to work with Mexico, Colombia and Afghanistan to address the source of illicit drugs entering the US. As far as the criminal justice system is concerned, Jeb Bush proposes to “broaden access to drug courts, an alternative to the traditional punishment system so that nonviolent drug offenders obtain treatment and recovery support.”
Jeb Bush’s post on Medium also comes in lieu of President Barack Obama’s own surprising speech about the state of US drug policy last year. At the 106th annual conference of the NAACP, President Obama acknowledged mass incarceration as a crisis and addressed his efforts to reduce (if not erase) mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. This was a first for any president of the United States since the War on Drugs was enacted in 1971.
Yet if you think that Jeb Bush is the only Republican running for president who shares decidedly progressive views on drug policy reform, then you are in for yet another big surprise.
At the Voters First Presidential Forum in New Hampshire, Governor Chris Christie said he believed that “the war on drugs has been a failure” and that we need to offer rehabilitation to people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol instead of incarceration. Ironically though, Christie has also repeatedly gone on record to propose a harsh anti-marijuana crackdown.
Another Republican presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul, shares similar views about replacing incarceration with rehabilitation. Speaking at the 2015 Republican debate on September 16, Paul said: “I would like to see more rehabilitation and less incarceration. I’m a fan of the drug courts which try to direct you back towards work and less time in jail.” Contrary to Christie’s promise of severe anti-marijuana policies, Paul would instead like to see the States themselves decide whether or not they want pot legalized.
However, the Republican presidential candidate who once held the most radical views on drug policy reform, left or right, also happens to be the candidate who has taken the most extreme ideological u-turn. Unsurprisingly, this candidate is Donald Trump. And what Donald Trump once believed was not just the legalization of marijuana, but the legalization of all drugs.
In 1990, Donald Trump shared his views on US drug policy while addressing 700 attendees at The Miami Herald’s Company of the Year luncheon. Among other things, he called drug enforcement efforts “a joke” and said that the US is “losing badly the war on drugs.” His solution to the drug problem, at that time, is as follows: “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
Donald Trump’s views on drug policy in 2015 though are a whole different story. By the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Donald Trump suddenly became a strong opponent to the legalization of recreational marijuana. He even called Colorado and Oregon’s experiment with legalization a “bad idea,” while also acknowledging that it would ultimately be up to the States to decide. Even though he is still “100 percent” open to medical marijuana, it can be assumed that he is no longer the revolutionary drug policy reformer of yesteryear.
Yet in the wake of Jeb Bush’s poignant blog post, as well as the words of other likeminded Republican lawmakers, it’s becoming clear that the attitudes towards American drug policy have come a long way since the 1970’s. And as more politicians on both sides of the political spectrum join in on the conversation with an increasingly sophisticated attitude, it is easy to see that a sea change in drug policy reform may be just on the horizon.