Bush Hints at Focus on Treatment
By Robert Sharpe. Wednesday, February 7, 2001.
Thus far George W. Bush’s presidency is a mixed bag in terms of drug policy. The Bush presidency is off to a promising start, with Bush stating during his inaugural address that "the proliferation of prisons… is no substitute for hope and order in our souls." During the campaign Bush stated that medical marijuana laws should be determined by individual states, not the federal government. As an admitted former problem drinker and alleged illegal drug user - his waffling on the subject all but confirms a history of illicit drug use - Bush is politically vulnerable when it comes to drugs. Perhaps that’s why he appears to have his priorities in order.
In a CNN interview conducted prior to the inauguration, Bush stated that “a lot of people are coming to the realization that maybe long minimum sentences for the first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease. And I'm willing to look at that.” During the same interview Bush spoke out against racial profiling and the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine. Bush’s director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Groups, John DiIulio, has become an outspoken critic of current sentencing policy, despite a controversial past that includes the coining of the term “super-predator” in the mid-nineties to describe inner city juvenile delinquents.
Treatment, albeit faith-based, is a recurring theme for the Bush administration. According to Bush "addiction to alcohol or addiction to drugs is an illness. And we haven't done a very good job, thus far, of curing people from that illness. And it's one of the reasons why I believe so strongly in faith-based programs to help people first change their lives, which would then change their habits."
Whether the rhetorical emphasis on treatment will pan out into drug policy reform remains to be seen. The appointment of drug war hawk John Ashcroft as Attorney General is certainly unsettling. Nonetheless, Ashcroft was likely chosen more for his conservative qualifications than his views on the drug war, which clearly contradict recent statements made by Bush.
Regarding Colombia, the Bush administration has hinted at escalating Plan Colombia to make combating communist insurgents a higher priority. This despite Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s comments during his confirmation hearing that America’s drug problem is "overwhelmingly a demand problem… If demand persists, it's going to get what it wants. And if it isn't from Colombia, it's going to be from someplace else." Whether or not Bush will drop the drug war façade and revive a Cold War era foreign policy is unclear at this point in time.
The fact that Bush has even addressed controversial issues related to drug policy so early in his presidency bodes well. It’s worth noting that his predecessor, Bill Clinton, waited until the end of his second term to do so. If Bush’s words are translated into action drug policy reform will make major leaps forward under the Bush administration.