Saturday, September 13, 2008

DPA's Nadelman on Biden- continued

Sen. Biden and Reform... It's Complicated
Thursday, August 28, 2008

I’m writing to you from Denver where I’m attending the Democratic National Convention (look for an email from me next week about the Republican National Convention). I thought you might be wondering how my colleagues and I feel about Sen. Barack Obama’s selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. Sen. Biden is unquestionably one of the chief architects of the modern war on drugs but also an unlikely ally in some of our most important fights. He has been at the center of many of our national campaigns -- perhaps more so than any other senator.

In the 1980s, Sen. Biden played a major role in enacting the draconian mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that have filled our prisons with nonviolent drug law violators. And he sponsored the law creating the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) -- he actually coined the term "drug czar," giving Bill Bennett and other drug war extremists a national stage and increased funding and power. In 2003, 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.

On the other hand, Sen. Biden has been a strong supporter of treatment and prevention. For instance, 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. And he helped write the Drug Addiction Treatment Act, which makes it easier for family doctors to prescribe buprenorphine and other replacement therapy medications from their offices, taking the pressure off special treatment clinics.

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

Sen. Biden’s groundbreaking bill has seven co-sponsors, including Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton. 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 own views on drug policy are shifting.

The Drug Policy Alliance and Drug Policy Alliance Network's relationship with Sen. Biden has certainly been rocky. We strongly opposed the RAVE Act, dubbing him the “Footloose senator” and leading a national grassroots campaign that forced him to change key elements of his bill. Now we’re working with him to eliminate the crack/powder disparity.

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. We’re glad you’re with us.


Ethan Nadelmann
Executive Director
Drug Policy Alliance Network

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