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Republicans Signal New Thinking On Drugs, Treatment, And Punishment

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Republicans Signal New Thinking On Drugs, Treatment, And Punishment


Of all the GOP presidential candidate soliloquies that began with “I’m the only one on this stage …,” one such story actually hit home Wednesday night.

It was shared by Carly Fiorina. It wasn’t a boast or a ploy to make herself stand out in the pack of male candidates. Rather, she described the personal pain of losing a child to drugs and alcohol.

“I very much hope that I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing,” she began. “My husband, Frank, and I buried a child to drug addiction.”

Fiorina made the comment during a wide-ranging discussion about the war on drugs, medical marijuana, and incarceration rates for drug-related offenses. There was also the highly tweetable quote by Jeb Bush, admitting he smoked pot 40 years ago, a confession he made with an apology to his mother.

But that was the only light-hearted moment. This segment of the debate is notable because it clearly had the GOP candidates understanding drug addiction as a medical affliction first and foremost, more than just a crime.

Bravo for Fiorina’s candor.

There likely isn’t a family in America that hasn’t in some way been affected by addiction, be it to alcohol, prescription drugs, or street drugs.

The life of Lori Ann Fiorina was such an existence. Her stepmother detailed it in her book, Rising to the Challenge. The former Hewlett-Packard chief had helped raise Lori from the age of 6.

The family suspected Lori drank heavily in college. Like so many others, she apparently never made the crossover from binge drinking as a co-ed to a more controlled relationship with alcohol as an adult. That’s a sad, common story in America. And it’s not discussed enough, outside of afternoon talk shows anyway. Certainly, it’s not regularly addressed by political candidates.

For Fiorina’s stepdaughter, a post-graduation job in pharmaceutical sales apparently then that led to a prescription pill addiction and, finally, complications with bulimia. She died at 35.

It’s not the kind of topic many people like to discuss, much less political candidates. Such is the shame that is often attached to having a loved one who suffers from addiction.

The topic came up in the debate in questions to Sen. Rand Paul about his support for the legalization of marijuana and to Gov. Chris Christie about his stated opposition to it. Christie flatly stated, “I think the war on drugs has been a failure.” No one objected.

Sen. Paul noted: “The federal government has gone too far. The war on drugs has had a racial outcome.” He then pointed to the hypocrisy that people with more privilege use drugs and escape incarceration, while for too many young black people and Latinos in urban cities that’s not the case. They wind up with criminal records.

No one disputed that.

Fiorina, in fact, noted that two-thirds of incarcerated Americans are in jail or prison for nonviolent, often drug-related offenses. Candidates seemed to agree that drug courts, which route low-level and first time offenders to treatment instead of jail time, are a good idea.

All of this took place in the hallowed hall of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which calls to mind a far different day, that of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign and the buildup to the war on drugs.

In 1986, Congress passed and Reagan endorsed a law that imposed a draconian five-year minimum sentence for those convicted in federal court for possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine. Notoriously, the same minimum sentence for powder cocaine (which white drug users overwhelmingly preferred) was 500 grams. The prison population of the United States exploded over the next two decades.

Getting America to move away from mass incarceration as a social panacea and toward prevention and treatment of addiction will be a daunting task. It may take a generation to accomplish — if it’s even possible.

There is too much money to be made in the penal industry, now a landscape of for-profit prison companies and powerful prison-guard lobby groups. And treatment programs entail upfront expenses that politicians and voters may balk at, although their beneficial impact on society and the economy are indisputable.

“Drug addiction is an epidemic,” Fiorina said pointedly to end her remarks on the subject. “And it is taking too many of our young people. I know this sadly from personal experience.”

That Republicans get this is one of the few signs of hope in an otherwise dismal primary season.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at msanchez@kcstar.com.)

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Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez has spent years covering immigration, schools, and other volatile beats for The Kansas City Star. She is now an editorial columnist for the Star, where she continues to offer insightful commentary on immigration, culture, and politics.

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  1. patrick g van meter September 19, 2015

    The war on drugs has been lost. We all need to face that and make them legal. Spend the money that has been wasted all these years on controling the problem. Like in the Netherlands.

    1. itsfun September 19, 2015

      Might work, it would take the huge profit away from dealers. Nothing else has worked.

      1. RED September 21, 2015

        Why is someone who sales alcohol called a cashier but someone who sells pot is a dealer or “pusher”?? Because lots of people are morons!

        1. itsfun September 21, 2015

          Alcohol is legal and in most places POT isn’t.

          1. RED September 21, 2015

            You truly have a hard won immunity to intelligence, don’t ya?

          2. itsfun September 21, 2015

            nope What do you call someone that sells illegal black market drugs?

    2. jmprint September 19, 2015

      Pharmaceutical drugs are legal, it’s illegal to self them to minors. Which is why I don’t understand why they are more prominent in schools.

      1. plc97477 September 20, 2015

        It is easier for a kid in school to get hold of illegal drugs than it is for them to get a bottle of beer because the beer is regulated the drugs are not.

  2. Carolyn1520 September 19, 2015

    The right has known this for awhile. They would have to be brain dead not to have known. It served their greater agenda to ignore that fact though. It served their purpose, as another form of voter suppression.
    Now let’s see how many support giving the disenfranchised their rights back, after they paid their dues and are released.

    1. itsfun September 19, 2015

      Yep, and the right is responsible for cancer, Parkinson’s disease flooding, forest fires, the plague and every bad thing that ever happens.

      1. Carolyn1520 September 19, 2015

        Firing back with a moronic response doesn’t change the fact that jailing people for drugs and then keeping them off the voting roles has worked well for the right. Voter suppression is and always has been one of their most effective methods.
        But continue with the moronic responses, it just validates why the intelligent people fled that party.

        1. itsfun September 19, 2015

          Moronic response? How is throwing a drug dealer or farmer or drug makes vote suppression?

          1. Carolyn1520 September 19, 2015

            Yes. Moronic. None of those things you mentioned in your initial response has any bearing on this. It was a deflection. So is your current response.
            Get real. How many people arrested in the US for drug offenses are farming pot or making the drugs. Low level drug dealers not the major suppliers are the ones arrested daily and you take them off the street and an hour later their spots are filled.
            You need to meet your arrest quota you make another sweep.
            The bigger problem is no other jobs available then its made even more difficult by tacking a criminal record onto their resume.
            It’s an awesome responsibility to have the power and to be cavalier with people’s lives. If the police go after those committing crimes against people and property and the war on drugs is not an issue, we’d all be better off.

          2. itsfun September 19, 2015

            So, its ok to be a “low level” drug dealer. If we arrest the “high level” drug dealers, the the low level will be out of a job. So your solution to the drug problem is to not arrest anyone because it will cost jobs?

          3. Carolyn1520 September 19, 2015

            You miss my point entirely.
            Not sure if it’s intentional on your part or not but I’m not getting into a circular discussion with someone who specializes in not getting it.

          4. CrankyToo September 19, 2015

            He misses every point entirely. Don’t you know itsfun to be oblivious?

          5. Johnny Z September 20, 2015

            Again, Nixon and Reagan started the drug war to keep those they didn’t like and didn’t vote for them in jail. Here we are, still under the thumb of a law that was created by criminals like Nixon and Reagan.

          6. itsfun September 21, 2015

            I think it was President Johnson that started the war on drugs

          7. jmprint September 19, 2015

            You can get rid of the ants, but the queen is still producing. Get it.

      2. RED September 21, 2015

        Pretty much, glad to see you’re getting a little smarter!! Hehe

    2. jmprint September 19, 2015

      I know this guy that was caught while running, they didn’t find any drugs on him, except a few little empty baggies, but because it was his third offense he got 100 years. You can kill your children, or relatives, but don’t get caught with baggies. Instead of making a productive citizen we feed him and he gets more corrupt in jail. Government has no logic.

  3. jmprint September 19, 2015

    I think marijuana should be legalized, but I also think we need more control on synthetic drugs. Synthetic marijuana is destroying our kids mental ability, and it needs to be outlawed.

    1. itsfun September 19, 2015

      It is in some places. I have read the tax revenue created is huge.

    2. Carolyn1520 September 19, 2015

      Synthetic drugs and all the other chemical cocktails rapidly appearing (from China and basement chemists) are killing people.

      1. bobnstuff September 19, 2015

        Every time they outlaw one of these synthetic drugs another one pops up to replace it, it’s an endless cycle. Legalize Marijuana and it all goes away.

    3. plc97477 September 20, 2015

      If we quit making them illegal we can start regulating them.

    4. RED September 21, 2015

      How do you think we get all the far more dangerous drugs? It’s because we’ve created a black market! And when you create a black market you end up with “bathtub gin” and all kinds of really scary stuff. There are so many amazing benefits that would come with legalization of all drugs, not the least of which would be actually living up to the concept of a free country!!

      1. Independent1 September 21, 2015

        Amazing benefits?? Are they along with the sharp increases in auto fatalities like what has happened in Colorado after it legalized Pot?? Will it also be amazing as drug addicts fill our emergency rooms from overdoses like what is happening in Colorado? And maybe more juveniles die from overdoes on it, because like with guns it will be a lot easier for them to get their hands on dangerous drugs?

        See my post above to Defender88 on the experience in Colorado with Pot.

        1. RED September 21, 2015

          You can save your hysterics and propaganda for the lesser informed and educated. You’ve clearly been programmed with 40 years of lies from the people who benefit tremendously from prohibition. What’s the most likely way to die the US? Car accident, you wanna ban cars too? Or how about we act like rational grown ups and make it a crime to ACTUALLY drive intoxicated rather than hysterical belief that smoking pot gives people uncontrollable urges to drive. We won’t even bother with the fact that driving under the influence of THC is far less dangerous than alcohol. Go read a book on “overdoses” in the US and you will discover some real facts instead of your own mythology and learn that almost all overdoses are either related to the unregulated market and an inability to ascertain purity or mixing disparate substances. I guarantee you if you had to guess how much Nyquil was in an unregulated dose, we’d have od’s of that as well. So I realize there are lots of people such as yourself who have been so indoctrinated with the party line mythology that you will never see facts but there are also many of us tired of paying the billions upon billions and the broken lives and families your false beliefs have cost.

          1. Independent1 September 21, 2015

            And by the way, if you had read my response to Defender88, you would see that I’m not against legalization; but before that happens, someone has to figure out how to keep druggies out from being behind the wheel of cars, trucks, whatever. There are 27 states with auto fatality rates higher than the national average – and a number of those states are finding the reason they have such high auto fatality rates is because they have a lot of people driving while on drugs.

            Auto manufacturers need to come up with a method to detect when people are high on drugs or intoxicated, and not let a car start if that’s the case. Dogs can detect those conditions. Scientists need to figure out how dogs do it and reproduce their ability. That would mean a lot less carnage with respect to auto accidents if many drugs were legalized.

          2. RED September 22, 2015

            Just the same old same hysteria. Driving a car is dangerous. If you cannot handle the risk do not drive. And anyone with a brain knows that the way our system has created the false mythology around drugs. So as with alcohol, marijuana is considered the cause of the accident no matter how ridiculous that claim is. Is you’re driving along and a kid runs in the street and you hit the kid, if you test positive for smoking pot from a month ago they And people like you will claim it was caused by the drug. Wake up to the reality, the US has used drugs as a scapegoat to avoid so many other problems and to disappear the “undesirables.”

          3. Independent1 September 22, 2015

            Wow!! Are you a druggie or something? You’re the one that’s making totally ridiculous comments in support of legalizing drugs. When auto accident investigators say that alcohol or drugs were the probable cause of an accident, they’re not looking for ‘traces’ of the alcohol or drug, they’re looking for the levels in the blood that show people were likely impaired by the alcohol or drug such that being on a drug was in fact the probable cause of the accident.

            And you’re really not as smart as you seem to think you are about drugs, because YOU CAN IN FACT ‘OD’ ON POT!!

            See this:

            Yes. ODing on marijuana is possible and does happen. Overdosing is simply taking “more than the normal or recommended amount of something, usually a drug.” There are non-lethal overdoses and lethal overdoses. Bad trips are typically the result of a non-lethal overdose. Death can be a RESULT of an overdose, but dying from a drug is not the actual meaning for “overdose”.

            Currently, marijuana isn’t regulated, and therefore, there are no “warning labels” or “recommended dosage” to prevent negative side effects or ODing on it. If you’ve ever thought “I think I just smoked too much”, you are probably on the border of an actual overdose. You stopped before the negative effects became “too much” for you and you should be glad. Not everyone is fortunate to know that it was “too much” until it’s too late. Edibles are a prime example. They are far more potent than their smoke-able counterpart, last much longer, and the effects are delayed…. Making it much easier to overdo it, but not realize it until it actually kicks in.


          4. RED September 22, 2015

            I guess once we have have autonomous cars, your ridiculous argument is moot!

        2. RED September 21, 2015

          By the way, you can’t be so uniformed that you actually believe you can physically overdoses on pot, right?

          1. Independent1 September 21, 2015

            Wow!! Are you a fanatic or what?? Who said anything about overdosing on pot?? I was talking about overdosing on heroin or whatever other drug you want to legalize. The article I posted talks about kids ingesting pot and getting sick from it.

            Before being legal, pot heads knew enough not to smoke pot and drive. After Colorado legalized it they apparently started smoking it while driving and despite your BS, got high on it which impaired their driving ability. Are you trying to claim that those stats posted in that op ed are not true?? Or that some heroin or other opiate addict wouldn’t shot up while driving if it was legal to use, and then crash somewhere when he or she maybe passed out from it??

            You’re clearly as wacko on drugs as gun nuts are on guns.

            Regardless of what you claim, fact is, legalizing pot in Colorado has not cost more people their lives and sent more to the hospital over the past year,

  4. Otto Greif September 19, 2015

    How come Choom Gang Barry Obama hasn’t called for marijuana legalization?

    1. Johnny Z September 20, 2015

      President Obama said that the states should decide on that issue and that’s what is happening. Not good enough for you? Try asking a Neo-con right winger to say the same.

      1. Otto Greif September 20, 2015

        What a courageous stand.

    2. itsfun September 21, 2015

      Another case of Obama only enforcing laws he likes and ignores ones he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter to him that he took an oath to enforce all laws.

  5. itsfun September 19, 2015

    Just making drugs illegal has done no good. There is so much money in drug dealing, creating, growing and whatever, its worth the risk to many. Somehow that is what we have to stop. We do need to make our borders more secure for one thing. Maybe a well patrolled wall will help. I saw on the news where a submarine was used import drugs. Maybe, because drugs kill so many, we need to make the death penalty for the dealers, drug makers. When we deport a dealer , he/she just comes back. So far the war on drugs is a complete failure. We need a new war or strategy or whatever you want to call it. We also need some kind of help for those addicted. This is a terrible situation and we need a real effort to fix it.

    1. bobnstuff September 19, 2015

      There is no way to stop drugs from coming in. A wall just move the flow to the high seas. The reason drugs kill so many is that you never know what you get. Regulate content and you cut down on deaths. Drug treatment is the other big problem, In order to get treatment you have to be a junky for a year and there are no programs for pot smokers. Drugs aren’t the problem, they are the symptom of the problem.

      1. itsfun September 20, 2015

        I read a 2 man sub was caught bringing drugs in. Do you know if the Americans with disability act could be used for drug treatment programs? Maybe that would be a way for pot smokers to get treatment as well as cigarette users.

        1. bobnstuff September 20, 2015

          As of right now there are no treatment programs for pot smokers, Pot is more likely to come by sea because it is bulky. With the amount of coast line there is no way to stop it. There are a number of things Pot work well for as a treatment for things like PTSD but because of it’s legal status very few studies have been done.

          1. itsfun September 20, 2015

            The way things are trending, I believe Pot will become legal in most (if not all ) states in the near future.

  6. urbanegorilla September 19, 2015

    Remarkably, Fiorina’s experience is ignored as ‘we’ freak out about pot. As Dr. Mercola states: Death by medicine is a 21st-century epidemic, and America’s “war on drugs” is clearly directed at the wrong enemy!

    Prescription Drugs Now Kill More People than Illegal Drugs http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/10/26/prescription-drugs-number-one-cause-preventable-death-in-us.aspx

    If you want a ‘war on drugs’ its focus should be Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and the rest of them who pay for studies that encourage more and more use of the products they have the right to. The latest I heard (although not a mind altering drug) is that kids should be placed on statins to fight our obesity rates. Seriously?

    1. jmprint September 19, 2015


    2. ralphkr September 19, 2015

      Really, urbanegorilla, statins for weight loss??? My impression of statins is that they are an aid in GAINING weight. I am on statins and had to drastically cut down on calorie intake when I quickly gained weight.

  7. @HawaiianTater September 19, 2015

    Prohibition never works. What it does is give rise to criminal enterprise.

  8. Johnny Z September 20, 2015

    The reason Nixon, Reagan and all the rest of the drug war Nazis wanted a prohibition is because they wanted everyone they didn’t like in jail. Nixon and Reagan hated the hippy generation and they wanted everyone with hair below the top of their ear put away and out of the voting booths. Pigs, pigs, pigs! All of them!

  9. DEFENDER88 September 20, 2015

    Since we tried the War on Drugs and proved it does not work.

    Just like we tried a war on Liquor – proved that did not work either.

    Here is what will work.

    Should be treated same as liquor:

    Drugs – none of your or the Govt damn business what I do as long as I am not hurting or costing you.

    It is not the drugs that lead to the destruction of families it is the cost of buying “illegal drugs” and the poor quality some are, due to no controls.

    I say legalize ALL of it, except the new designer drug psychotropics that drive people to mass shootings.

    Yes, some will abuse it like drunks do alcohol but that should be a personal choice.

    Tax drugs like liquor(and ensure good quality), empty the jails, cut police forces in half, balance the budget.

    Makes too much sense I guess.

    1. RED September 21, 2015

      Amen brother!!! Time to actually become the free country we pretend to be!! Now they morons will scream about how drug use affects more than just yourself, it effects your family and those around, right? But of course the same can be said of alcohol which is far worse than ANY other DRUG! And second they could care less about how your family is affected when you’re kids are denied a decent education, or get shot with all their guns for everybody plan, or go to bed hungry. So personally it’s makes me frigging sick how these lying pols pretend to care about a person and their families’ welfare when it comes to incarcerating huge numbers of people but couldn’t give a crap when it comes to feeding them or medical care. It is truly disgusting!!

    2. Independent1 September 21, 2015

      I can’t argue that making drugs illegal has worked a great deal to eradicate them. But then again, when you think about legalizing many drugs, keep in mind what’s going on in Colorado since they’ve legalized Pot; a sharp increase in the number of auto fatalities as people high on Pot are no different than drunks and get killed much faster than people not high on pot.

      And keep this in mind too, that the states of North Dakota and South Dakota rank very high on the charts for auto fatalities for two reasons: 1 is very big on drinking and deaths related to DUIs, while the other is very high on deaths related to people being very high on drugs.(Both are on the highside for both reasons why their fatalities are high – people in those states apparently do a lot of drinking along with their drugs.)

      Here’s an article from the Bangor Daily News talking about a 32% increase in auto fatalities related to Pot in just one year, with a 92% increase when you combine the five years from 2010-2014:

      What Maine can learn from Colorado’s legalization of marijuana

      A newly released report in Colorado doesn’t give marijuana legalization many positive marks. In fact, it points to a troubling 32-percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in just one year from 2013, with a 92 percent increase from 2010 to 2014.

      What’s more, drug-related suspensions and expulsions
      increased 40 percent between school years 2008-2009 and 2013-2014, with
      the vast majority for marijuana violations, the organization Rocky
      Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area found.

      Colorado’s retail marijuana businesses began operating in 2014. That year also saw the following, according to the report:

      a 29-percent increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits,

      a 38 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations, and

      16 marijuana ingestions among children under 12 compared with two in 2009.

      For more on this go here:


      1. RED September 21, 2015

        Almost every word of your comment is worthless. I have no desire to verify all your claims but I do know Maine has been waging a campaign to try to stop legalization, so your post is just the continuation of all the same old lies and fear mongering. How about let’s just go the simple way, this is supposed to be a free country, so what citizens choose to put in their own body is their business. If you wanna try to find predictors of violence or crime you should be advocating spending billions to eradicate poverty, cause that’s a far better predictor than drugs. You, nor anyone else can come up with a single harm that someone taking a drug inflicts on someone else. You always have to assume something else, they’re gonna drive, they’re gonna rob someone, always gotta draw a causal line that is only real in the mythology.

  10. Corey Mondello September 21, 2015

    Most Republicans, being like those handed their fortunes, do not need to worry about being held accountable for anything. Our last president was a coke addict and an alcoholic with DUI’s that simply disappeard prior to him becoming governor of Texas.

    1. jamesowens September 21, 2015

      and he bough his coke fro his brother jeb

  11. pisces63 September 21, 2015

    Don’t believe the hype. To Fiorina’s credit, she is dead on. Here, in Cleveland, Ohio,
    there has been a full blown epidemic for 2 or more years. It isn’t crack but old tried and true heroin. Over 60% of students in the outer ring suburbs, read, white areas, have used, are using heroin and it started with using their parents prescription medications, especially opiates. The use of one led to the other. There have been many deaths and no telling how many lately, since they aren’t black and have kept it on the down low. Example, Portman spoke at the City club and spoke of this. It got my attention, this republican speaking in a heartfelt manner of people he knew and/or their children who had dies, then he segued into the typical racist rant with and that’s why children in
    poor neighborhoods cannot read because they are ducking drive by shootings. PLUS, a white Cleveland police officer rakes them and the Plain Dealer over the coals about the how this epidemic is being treated, with compassion, treatment, hot lines, etc., vs the crack cocaine epidemic, jail, imprisonment, ostracism, etc. It’s THEIR children now. If it were in the black neighborhoods, we would hear nothing, again.


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