For the first time in years, there is a discernible difference between the major party candidates for President. Though not a word about marijuana or drug reform has been heard on the campaign trail, the positions of George Bush and John Kerry can be read from their records.
Even by the dismal standards of recent Presidents, it would be impossible to do worse than George W. Bush. In appointing John Ashcroft as Attorney General and John Walters as Drug Czar, he has put the nation's drug policy firmly in the hands of the worst prohibitionist zealots. Under Ashcroft, the Department of Justice has made a mockery of Bush's pledge to honor state's rights by attacking medical marijuana here in California as well as assisted suicide in Oregon. Against the advice of local US attorneys, Ashcroft shamelessly ordered the DEA to raid the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center just two weeks after 9/11. Subsequent targets included Ed Rosenthal, the Wo/men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, Steve McWilliams, and a host of other medical cannabis providers - not to mention Tommy Chong, nabbed for selling bongs in Operation Pipe Dreams. The upshot is that the Bush administration can claim credit for prosecuting more people for marijuana than terrorism in California. Meanwhile, John Walters has used the Office for National Drug Control Policy to churn out shamelessly mendacious propaganda. Cynically exploiting 9/11, Walters sponsored scurrilous ads seeking to blame casual pot smokers for terrorism. Walters has also absurdly proclaimed that the nation's number one drug problem is marijuana, threatened the Canadian government not to decriminalize, and sought to expand drug testing in the schools. As for Bush, who has never denied committing drug felonies in his youth, it should be noted that he has been the stingiest President on record when it comes to granting pardons. His re-election would mean four more years of reactionary resistance to much-needed reform of our bankrupt marijuana laws.
While Senator Kerry's record is mixed, it does have important bright spots. Like every other U.S. Senator in recent years, he has voted for numerous objectionable anti-drug bills. However, he has distinguished himself by repeatedly opposing bills to extend mandatory minimums and impose the death sentence for drug crimes. In conversations with activists, he has expressed support for "thoroughgoing sentencing reform" to reduce non-violent drug prisoners. He is also one of a handful of Senators who voted against random drug testing of transportation workers. In response to questions from patient advocates, Kerry has repeatedly expressed support for medical marijuana. Asked by a Wisconsin activist when medical marijuana would be legal, he replied, "When I'm President." Kerry also co-authored a letter to the DEA calling on it to approve a stalled medical marijuana research application by the U. of Massachusetts. On the negative side, Kerry does not embrace decrim, and has a decidedly hawkish view on the Latin American Drug war, forfeiture, and money laundering legislation. In one of his worst votes, he voted to deny food stamps to ex-drug offenders. While Kerry is far from perfect, he has taken more favorable positions on drug reform issues than any major party candidate since Jimmy Carter.
As usual, voters who are dissatisfied with both major parties can cast a protest vote for Libertarian Michael Badnarik, or Green party candidate David Cobb, both of whom favor legal marijuana and oppose the drug war (so does Ralph Nader, but he isn't on the California ballot).
This year's Senate race looks to be a blowout , with Sen. Barbara Boxer boasting a huge lead over her Republican challenger, Bill Jones. Neither candidate has been supportive of marijuana reform, making this a ripe opportunity to consider a vote for the third-party challenger who is running against the drug war, Libertarian Judge Jim Gray .
As a state legislator, Bill Jones was a reliably bad vote on drug issues, representing the dominant anti-choice, law-and-order wing of his party. His most memorable accomplishment was sponsoring the state's draconian "Three-Strikes" law, under whose flawed terms offenders are sentenced by 25-years to-life for non-violent third strike felonies, including many drug offenses. (Voters will have an opportunity to undo Jones' mess by voting for Prop 66 on this year's ballot). Regarding medical marijuana, Jones has indicated that until it is FDA approved, he supports the federal raids on cannabis clubs.
While Sen. Boxer enjoys a better reputation among civil libertarians (she deserves kudos for being the first Senator to oppose Ashcroft's nomination for Attorney General), her position on drug issues has been notably backwards. Throughout her career Boxer has countered her liberal reputation by taking a tough line on drugs, supporting strict sentences, user penalties like "smoke a joint, lose your license," and opposing Prop. 215. In the eight years since its approval, Boxer has not lifted a finger to support medical marijuana despite numerous entreaties by patient advocates. Check out her website, and you won't find a word about the federal raids on cannabis clubs or the war on drugs.
In contrast, Libertarian candidate Jim Gray (JudgeGray2004.com), a superior court judge from Orange County, is making drug reform a centerpiece of his campaign. A longtime vocal critic of the drug war and author of "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed," Gray supports legalizing marijuana, Oakland's Measure Z, and the Three Strikes reform initiative, Prop. 66. Gray is also campaigning against the Patriot Act, which he says drove him to leave the Republican Party.
There is no Green party candidate in the Senate race this year; however, a fourth candidate, Marsha Feinland, is running for the Peace and Freedom Party on a platform including marijuana legalization and an end to the drug war, among a host of other lrft-progressive issues.
Unfortunately, due to a redistricting scheme that heavily favors incumbents, there are almost no competitive races in California this year. Click here for a summary of individual candidates listing incumbents with their voting records and challengers who have made their views known via Vote-Smart.org or elsewhere.
The last Congress had only a couple of opportunities to vote on drug reform issues. Of most interest was an amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Orange Co) to prevent the DEA from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. Thanks to support from minority leader Nancy Pelosi (S.F.), California Democrats voted 30 - 2 in favor of the amendment (the renegades were "Valley Democrats" Rep. Joe Baca (San Bernardino) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Merced) ). Unfortunately, due to unrelenting pressure from the arch-prohibitionist Republican leadership of Speaker Hastert, only one California Republican, Rep. Mary Bono (Palm Springs), dared to support Rorhrabacher's amendment this year (Rep. Bill Thomas (Bakersfield) supported the measure last year, but switched his vote).
Voters should recognize that until the Republican leadership of Congress is overthrown, there is no hope of marijuana or drug reform. A Democratic majority led by Nancy Pelosi would bring in new committee chairmen who are much more sympathetic to drug reform. All other things being equal, Democrats are therefore generally to be preferred to Republicans when it comes to marijuana and drug reform. One exception is the 18th District in Merced, where Republican Charles Pringle has criticized incumbent Dennis Cardozašs vote against the Rohrabacher amendment as "an assault on the doctor-patient privilege."
In the 19th District (Fresno-Tuolumne), NORML supporter Lex Bufford is running on the Democratic ticket against veteran incumbent George Radanovich.
Voters who are understandably dissatisfied with both major parties may wish to vote for candidates of the Libertarian, Green, or Peace and Freedom parties, whose platforms support legal marijuana and an end to the drug war.
Once again, because of California's redistricting scheme, very few races for State Assembly or Senate are competitive this year. Click here for listings of individual candidates for Assembly and candidates for State Senate showing (1) incumbents with their voting records and (2) challengers who have made their views known via Vote-Smart.org or elsewhere.
Several decent drug reform bills came before the legislature this year. As has been the pattern in recent years, support was split along party lines, with Democrats largely supportive, and Republicans solidly opposed. Among candidates for re-election, 30 Democrats and no Republicans posted perfect 100% drug reform voting records on five key votes in the legislature. In contrast, 19 Republicans and one Democrat (Nicole Parra of Hanford, who faces a tight re-election contest) posted a dismal 0%. This pattern can be expected to continue in the next legislature. All other things being equal, therefore, Democrats are to be favored over Republicans.
As always, voters unsatisfied with major party candidates may wish to send a message by voting for the Libertarians, Greens, or Peace and Freedom party, who are supportive of marijuana and drug reform.
In a tidal wave of anti-crime hysteria fueled by the Polly Klaas murder, ten years ago California voters approved the "Three Strikes" initiative, drastically increasing sentences for repeat offenders. The law mandated 25 years to life for "third strike" offenders with two prior "violent or serious" offenses, as well as stiffer penalties for "two strikers" with one prior violent or serious offense. Although the law was ostensibly aimed at violent criminals, it was written over-broadly so as to count any felony as the final strike, including victimless drug offenses.
The result was to unnecssarily strain California's crowded prison system. At last report, 30% of the Three Strikes population was serving 25 years to life for drug offenses, 2,323 of them for simple possession; another 349 prisoners were serving enhanced third or second-strike sentences for marijuana felonies. This is not what Californians had in mind in voting for Three Strikes. No other state has comparable penalties for repeat felonies that are not violent.
Proposition 66 would remedy this injustice by applying "Three Strikes" penalties only to "serious or violent" third offenses. Law enforcement interests, including the state's district attorneys, Attorney General Lockyer, and Gov. Schwarzenegger have lined up in opposition to Prop. 66. The voters would be wise to reject their self-interested apologetics for the state's bloated corrections system and approve Prop. 66.
DNA Fingerprinting Prop 69 would require the police to collect and catalog DNA samples from every felony arrestee. The result would be that every single medical marijuana patient wrongly arrested for cultivation would have their fingerprints cataloged in a goverment data base. Prop. 215 patients already have too many valid concerns about their privacy. Cal NORML recommends a No on Prop. 69