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On the Wire
Drug Policy of the Democratic Party
By Steve Hoenisch
Last updated on Nov. 11, 2004
Copyright 1996-2008 www.Criticism.Com
This essay appears in The Encyclopedia of the American Democratic and Republican Parties, published by the International Encyclopedia Society. The encyclopedia won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1997.
Table of Contents
1 Approaches to Drug Control
2 An Ill-Conceived, Racist War on Drugs
3 Democrats Against Injustice
5.1 Democratic Party
5.2 Republican Party
6 Bestselling Books on the Democratic Party
Members of the Democratic Party, with their big city constituency, have long had a vested interest in federal drug control policy. They have, at times, played forceful roles in the often bipartisan issue. Many in the Democratic Party have stood firmly behind the need for drug control; splits within the party usually have taken place over the priorities, funding levels, or strategies for controlling drugs. Most moderate and liberal Democrats have favored an approach that emphasizes prevention and treatment over interdiction and enforcement, while the more conservative Southern Democrats have often favored a tougher, law and order approach to the problem.
During the 1990s, some members of the Democratic Party increasingly began to speak in favor of legalization, arguing that the drug war has failed and that legalization, coupled with extensive treatment programs, would be the best policy for controlling drug abuse.
From 1976 through the 102d Congress, the three Democrats who served as the chairman of the House Select Narcotics Abuse and Control Committee played important roles in drug policy. They were Representatives Lester L. Wolff, Leo C. Zeferetti, and Charles B. Rangel, all from New York City.
Yet despite the involvement of many Democrats in drug policy, it was conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan who elevated the issue to the national spotlight with his war on drugs of the early 1980s. Since, the issue has remained of paramount public and political importance, arising during every presidential election since 1980 as members of both parties articulated their approaches for handling the problem. The issue became particularly heated during the 1988 presidential campaigns. Jesse Jackson, a candidate in the 1988 Democratic Party presidential primaries, tried to make drug control into a major foreign policy issue. Jackson called for a drug czar to coordinate the efforts of the agencies fighting the drug war, more money for the Coast Guard, and possible use of the military. Michael Dukakis, the eventual 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, made similar demands.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, however, it was Republican George Bush who won the 1988 presidential election, and he lost no time in continuing former conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan's war on drugs. Passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 created a cabinet-level drug czar, and Bush appointed ultra-conservative William J. Bennett to the post. He focused on combatting street sales of drugs and on financing antidrug efforts in the countries from which the drugs were originating.
Elected members of the Democratic Party have often opposed the law and order tactics used by such previous Republican administrations as those of Bush, Reagan, and Richard M. Nixon, who helped encourage the 1970 passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which reinforced narcotics penalties. The Democrats instead favor expanding education and other prevention programs along with treatment and rehabilitation facilities.
During the mid 1990s, the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton emphasized treatment for addicts while limiting support for overseas antidrug campaigns. Republicans, led by conservative Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the Speaker of the House, have argued that the administration's approach fails to effectively diminish the supply of illicit drugs. Yet such hardline policies as determinate sentencing advocated by Republicans have resulted in a U.S. prison population proportionately larger than that of any other country.
Bacon, Donald C.; Davidson, Roger H.; Keller, Morton; editors. The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Barnes, Fred. "Dopey." The New Republic, May 23, 1988.
Feeley, Malcolm M. and Sarat, Austin D. The Policy Dilemma: Federal Crime Policy and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.
Gest, Ted. "Congress and Cops." U.S. News & World Report. December 26, 1994.
Treaster, Joseph B. "Missing the Glory: Clinton's Opportunity on Drug Policy Seems to Fade Into Political Setback." News Analysis, The New York Times, October 22, 1993.
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