Ashcroft Far Out of Touch with American Voters on Drug Policy

Press Release January 15, 2001
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 x 1383 or Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916

Just weeks after American voters issued the largest repudiation of our nation’s drug war by voting in favor of reform in five states, former Senator John Ashcroft, who supports extreme, opposing measures, is being considered as our next U.S. Attorney General.

In addition, according to a recent article in Salon Magazine, Senator Ashcroft’s nephew – Alex Ashcroft – was arrested for growing 60 marijuana plants in 1992. “Alex Ashcroft was tried in state court and avoided jail – despite his uncle’s crusade for tougher federal drug laws and mandatory prison sentences.”

Following are examples of gaps between the views and interests of mainstream Americans and Senator Ashcroft on drug policy:

Treatment and Prevention

Mainstream America: Americans strongly support drug treatment and education programs in order to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and help every American reach their full potential. Even outgoing Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey and most politicians favor spending more money on treatment and prevention. (According to the RAND Corp. treatment is seven times more cost-effective than incarceration at reducing cocaine consumption.) Voters have twice passed ballot measures designed to divert drug abusers to treatment instead of prison, most recently in California with Proposition 36.

Sen. Ashcroft: Senator Ashcroft favors eliminating or cutting the budgets of both prevention and drug treatment programs, believing that a government that spends resources on such programs “is a government that accommodates us at our lowest and least.” He even opposed McCaffrey’s ad campaign aimed at preventing youth drug use. He also opposes efforts to allow those addicted to drugs to receive treatment instead of prison.

Preventing HIV/AIDS

Mainstream America: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, syringe sharing among injection drug users is associated with more than 250,000 HIV infections among American injection drug users, their sex partners, and their children – including the majority of all cases among women and children. Needle exchange programs are supported by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and both President Bush’s and President Clinton’s AIDS Advisory Commissions.

Sen. Ashcroft: Senator Ashcroft supported legislation to prevent states from spending federal anti-AIDS money on needle exchange programs; supported legislation preventing the citizens of Washington, D.C. from funding such programs with their own tax dollars; and even opposed supporting research on whether or not such programs are effective, arguing that even investigating the science behind needle exchange programs will send the ‘wrong’ message to our nation’s youth, even though there is no evidence to support this claim.

Drug Sentencing

Mainstream America: Americans are tired of punitive drug policies that lock up rather than treat and erode civil rights at ever-increasing costs. Voters have approved 17 out of 19 drug policy reform initiatives since 1996. The list of public officials supporting an overhaul of our nation’s “mandatory minimum” laws includes President Clinton, Gov. Johnson (R-MI), Gov. Pataki (R-NY), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Also supporting reforms in harsh drug laws are the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Judicial Conferences of all 12 federal circuits.

Sen. Ashcroft: Senator Ashcroft is an unabashed proponent of harsh drug sentences for non-violent drug offenders and supported numerous bills during his Senate career that created new mandatory minimums or worsened existing ones. He opposed legislation recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and civil rights groups that would have reduced the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which falls disproportionately on African-Americans. He also prevented consideration of legislation in the Senate that would have allowed the compilation of data on the use of racial profiling by law-enforcement.

Richard Miller, in his book Drug Warriors and Their Prey, cites then-Missouri Governor Ashcroft’s support for revoking the driver’s licenses of anyone arrested for marijuana (even simple possession) and throwing entire families out of public housing if one of their members is caught using or selling drugs (even if the other family members are innocent). In the last Congress Ashcroft introduced and championed legislation (The Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act) outlawing certain drug-related free speech, making linking one’s web site to certain web sites a federal crime, and giving law-enforcement officers broad new powers to secretly search people’s homes and read their e-mail.

“President-elect Bush’s nomination of former Senator John Ashcroft for U.S. Attorney General ignores the direct will of the voters who have repeatedly signaled they want to reform how our country deals with drugs and drug abuse,” said Ethan Nadelmann, director of The Lindesmith Center – Drug Policy Foundation, a leading drug policy institute based in New York. “While voters were approving 17 out of 19 drug policy reform measures on the ballot since 1996,” Nadelmann continued, “Ashcroft was supporting the same draconian drug policies that have been failing for the last twenty years.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.