Last week I wrote to you from the Democratic National Convention. This week I’d like to share some insights regarding the Republican National Convention.

It’s hard to know what to make of Senator McCain‘s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. She’s admitted to smoking marijuana — but then again that’s also true of every Democratic nominee for president since 1992, as well as Newt Gingrich, Clarence Thomas and lots of other prominent Republicans.  As for the current president, he never admitted it but others did so on his behalf.  We’ve practically reached the stage where smoking a joint at some point in one’s life seems a prerequisite for anyone under the age of 65 aspiring to national office.

Alaska has legalized marijuana for medical use. So have 11 other states. Yet, the federal government continues to persecute patients and caregivers in those states.  I don’t think Governor Palin has made clear what she thinks of this, notwithstanding the fact that she represents a state and a political party that believe strongly in the rights of states to regulate their own affairs.  It would be nice if some journalist posed this question to her.

I’ve yet to find much information about Governor Palin’s views and record on drug policy. She  has said that marijuana should be illegal — although presumably she\’s glad she never was arrested for her own use.  But she’s also made clear that marijuana should not be a top law enforcement priority. That’s good — and probably politically wise given that close to 50 percent of Alaskans think marijuana should be legal.

As for Senator McCain, it’s hard to be optimistic that he’ll do much good on drug policy.  He has publicly mocked medical marijuana patients.  Back in 1999, he introduced a bill that would have banned methadone maintenance as an approved treatment for heroin addiction, notwithstanding the scientific consensus that it is by far the most effective treatment available. The only good news was his recent speech at the Urban League where he spoke in favor of diverting more nonviolent drug law offenders to treatment instead of prison.

What I find most interesting this week — from a drug policy perspective — has nothing to do with what’s on the main stage.  Just down the road in Minneapolis, Republican Congressman Ron Paul is holding a shadow convention with 10,000 of his supporters.   No one ever stirred up the libertarian wing of the Republican Party the way he did during the primaries.  It was good to have him holding forth on ending drug prohibition the way that William Buckley, Milton Friedman, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson have in years and decades past.   

And then there’s the campaign of Libertarian Presidential Candidate Bob Barr, a former Republican Congressman.  He used to be one of the Republican Party’s biggest cheerleaders for the war on drugs but he’s now embraced drug policy reform in a big way.  He and I were invited to debate one another at Fordham Law School last year but Bob Barr couldn’t find enough ways to agree with me.    

There’s no question the Republican Party is evolving as its libertarian wing gains strength.  And it’s our job at the Drug Policy Alliance to meld the libertarian sentiments on the right with the social justice passions on the left into an ever more powerful movement for ending the nation’s longest and most costly war — the war on drugs.   


Ethan Nadelmann
Executive Director
Drug Policy Alliance Network


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