Thursday, August 28, 2008

2008 DPA's Nadelman on Biden

Ethan Nadelman

“Sen. Joe Biden is unquestionably one of the chief architects of the modern war on drugs, but is also an unlikely ally in many important fights. He has been at the center of many of our national campaigns; perhaps more so than any other Senator.

“Earlier this year, Sen. Biden surprised many by introducing legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Hillary Clinton, to completely eliminate the 100-to-1 crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, leapfrogging more modest reforms put forth by Senators Kennedy, Hatch, Sessions and others. Like many members of Congress, he voted for the legislation in the 1980s that created the disparity. Unlike most though, Sen. Biden has the guts and humility to admit he was wrong.

“Sen. Biden’s groundbreaking bill has seven co-sponsors, including Sen. Obama. It is a sign of how politically popular drug policy reform has become among voters that a major presidential candidate not only co-sponsors a reform bill but nominates the bill’s sponsor as his running mate. That Sen. Biden is willing to be on the same ticket with Sen. Obama, who has indicated he understands the war on drugs isn’t working and called for a new paradigm, may be evidence that his views on drug policy are shifting.

“Sen. Biden has been a strong supporter of treatment and prevention. For instance, he helped write the Drug Addiction Treatment Act, which makes it easier for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine and other replacement medication from their offices rather than special treatment clinics. He was one of only five Senators to vote against confirming President Bush’s drug czar, John Walters, who has a history of short-changing treatment.

“On the other hand, Sen. Biden played a major role in enacting the draconian mandatory minimum sentences, in the 1980s, which have filled our prisons with nonviolent drug law offenders. And he sponsored the law creating the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), giving Bill Bennett and other drug war extremists a national stage and increased power. More recently, he passed the RAVE Act, which makes it easier for the government to prosecute bar and nightclub owners for the drug law offenses of their customers.

“The Drug Policy Alliance Network’s relationship with Sen. Biden has certainly been rocky. No matter who wins the White House in November or what positions they take, we’ll keep fighting for drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. We’ll thank policymakers when they’re right and criticize them when they’re wrong.”

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