Congressman Souder Afraid of Open Debate on Failed War on Drugs, Criticizes Leading Conservative Conference

Press Release February 8, 2006
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335 5384 or Tommy McDonald at (646) 335-2242

In an attempt to stifle open debate among conservatives, U.S. Representative Mark Souder recently submitted a statement for the congressional record railing against a decision by organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to include a debate on drug policy.

Souder, a long-time supporter of the failed War on Drugs, resorted to name-calling in an effort to discredit the inclusion of drug policy reform groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project at CPAC.

“It is one thing for Souder to support the war on drugs and to ignore all its costs, including wasting taxpayer money, destroying families, and undermining the rule of law. What is really tragic is when an elected official seeks to censor open discussion and debate,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is a long and distinguished tradition within the conservative movement in America of opposing the war on drugs and its violation of fundamental principles. Perhaps, it is Souder who is outside the mainstream among his conservative colleagues.”

For the second year in a row the nation’s leading drug policy reform organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, is co-sponsoring CPAC. Nadelmann, will also speak about the failures of the war on drugs during a February 10th debate entitled, “A Conservative Drug Policy? A Mini Debate on the War on Drugs.” Nadelmann’s National Review cover story in 2004, titled “An end to Marijuana Prohibition,” challenged American conservatives to take a stand against the U.S. government’s expensive, ineffective and harmful prohibitionist policies. Subsequent columns in the leading conservative magazine featured Nadelmann going head to head with drug czar John Walters on the same issue.

The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a Congressional caucus composed of more than 100 conservative House Republicans, recently came out for eliminating a number of failed drug war programs, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, the Safe and Drug-Free School programs, and the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Last year, conservative anti-tax groups urged Congress to eliminate six failed drug war programs to save money in the wake of Katrina. Those programs included the three programs RSC targeted for elimination, as well as student drug testing grants, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (aka Plan Colombia).

An increasing number of elected Republicans are taking the lead in reforming the country’s failed drug laws. In New Mexico, former Governor Gary Johnson was a staunch opponent of the war on drugs, and he passed landmark drug treatment and sterile syringe access legislation while he was in office.

Maryland Republican Governor Robert Erhlich also passed treatment instead of incarceration legislation in 2004 and is working on reforming so-called “mandatory minimum” drug sentences this year, and New York’s Republican Governor George Pataki passed modest reforms to that state’s notorious mandatory minimums, known as the Rockefeller drug laws, two years in a row. In addition, California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a number of drug policy reform measures that his Democratic predecessor vetoed, including a law making it legal for California pharmacies to sell clean syringes to reduce the spread of AIDS from injection drug use.

During the 2004 Republican National Convention, the Drug Policy Alliance ran an ad called “The Right Response to the War on Drugs” in the conservative daily the New York Sun. The ad quoted prominent figures like Grover Norquist, William F. Buckley, Jr., Milton Friedman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, critiquing the war on drugs.

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

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