Shopping For a Candidate For President

Earlier this week, I got email from Gina's brother Grant, asking for my opinions on the upcoming presidential race. "I think we sit at about the same place politically in reference to the WoSD" (War on Some Drugs), he wrote. "I've been shopping for a candidate for president. I was hoping to get behind someone who had a chance of winning."

Not surprisingly, Grant's message got me to thinking. The race is heating up; who should *I* support in Y2K?

I think the next election provides our best hope for a speedy and effective end to Modern Prohibition. It's still an extremely long shot, of course, but if a leader can emerge with the guts to challenge the established doctrines, the funding required to get his message heard, and the charisma necessary to actually get elected, we really could experience rapid reform. The question is, who is this leader, and will he emerge in time to get himself elected in Y2K?

Perhaps it will be Governor Gary Johnson, of New Mexico. On the same day that Grant wrote me, there came news of a significant defection from the Drug Warrior rank and file, when Governor Johnson came out in favor of full scale drug legalization. He is the highest-ranking public official to embrace this controversial idea thus far.

For the single-issue voter, Johnson is a dream candidate... but as far as I know, he hasn't announced any intention to seek the presidency. I'd like to think he's currently considering it, and is just testing the waters before announcing his campaign; but if he doesn't run now, perhaps he will in 2004. (Of course, I'd like to think we'll have ended Modern Prohibition by then...)

I'm a member of the Libertarian party, and I'll vote for whoever runs on that ticket (unless one of the two party candidates comes out in favor of drug reform). However, as Grant noted, it would be nice if our candidate actually had a chance of winning, and despite Jesse Ventura's recent Gubernatorial upset, the chances of the next president being a 3rd party candidate are terribly slim. So what we need to do between now and next November is to dragoon one of the front-runners into supporting drug law reform.

Interestingly enough, all three of the current poll-toppers appear to have the skeleton of past drug usage in their closets. Therefore, any of them could step forward to say what Governor Johnson is saying, which is that drug use didn't stop them from becoming successful and shouldn't be considered a crime. Of course, none have yet... but perhaps one will by this time next year.

So then the question is, what are the chances that Al Gore, Bill Bradley, or GW Bush will come out for legalization?

Let's start with the republican. Anti-prohibitionism used to be a democratic ideal; the Carter Administration gave us the closest thing to decrim that this country has ever seen. But the Clinton Administration has waged such an intense drug war that perhaps only a republican candidate can restore rationality to our nation's drug policies. After all, Gary Johnson is a republican, and the republicans claim to be in favor of a smaller, less powerful government, so perhaps the republicans will be the party to vote for in Y2K. On the other hand, Bush Jr. hasn't been looking too good on this issue, so this seems like an extra lengthy long shot.

That leaves us with the democrats, Gore and Bradley. I've actually never been much of a Gore supporter... during the Year of Monica, I entertained a fantasy that Clinton would resign or be impeached, and that Gore would step forward and say "Hey, I've smoked pot lots of times and now that I'm in charge I'm gonna to do everything in my power to legalize it." Of course, that didn't happen, but I don't think he'd have taken that position even if he'd gotten the chance.

Bill Clinton has done an excellent job of proving how expensive, destructive, and completely ineffective it is to attempt to solve the public health problem of substance abuse through the incarceration of our nation's citizens. The Clinton administration has been so bad on this issue, arresting the most pot smokers in history (700,000 last year alone), that I hold Al partially responsible. I suppose it's possible he'll announce one day that he doesn't agree with his boss's drug policies, but unless that happens, I'd rather just sweep the White House completely clean of that administration.

That leaves us with Bill Bradley. He's gaining a lot of support in other areas, but his opinions on drug policy are pretty unclear. I've heard rumors he recently acknowledged past marijuana use, but I haven't been able to confirm that yet. There is no statement regarding drug policy on his website. I actually take that as a good sign, since a drug war hawk would surely include whole-hearted support for prohibition in his platform. The lack of comment hopefully means that his mind isn't closed.

Until recently, Gore has seemed the likely democratic candidate in Y2K, but now that Bradley is actually threatening Gore's nomination, this issue will hopefully divide them, allowing us to rally around whichever candidate has the guts to challenge conventional wisdom. A Washington Post headline recently stated that Bradley is casting himself as a "Risk-Taking, Liberal-Minded Activist Candidate." Could he be the man who will lead this country out of the modern Vietnam that is our War on Drugs?

It's hard to say. But in the meantime, he's the one I'm supporting. And I'm very interested in knowing his reaction to Governor Johnson's controversial stance on drugs.

General Barry McCaffrey, Commander-in-Chief of the War on Drugs, said he was "astonished" by Governor Johnson's criticisms of current drug policy. But now that respected government officials like Johnson are finally talking seriously about legalization, this idea may not be astonishing for long.

The mere fact that an elected official of that rank has expressed this viewpoint will hopefully mean that, by next November, this issue will be properly debated and alternate strategies seriously discussed. An open debate will allow the public to see the facts: that marijuana is no worse than alcohol, that prohibition causes far more violent crime than it eliminates, and that attempting to stomp out an undesirable black market through the boot heel of law enforcement flies in the face of the capitalistic ideals that made this country great.

Copyright © 1999 by Andrew Looney.

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