What Would President Mitt Romney's Drug Policy Look Like?

The former governor is against the legalization of medical marijuana and has applauded Big Pharma, but his views are otherwise unclear. 

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As our friends at Stop the Drug War have pointed out, Romney has done his best to avoid establishing a clear drug policy. But despite his best efforts, a review of his actions as the Governor of Massachusetts and his statements on the 2008 and 2012 campaign trail have established one for him -- which might best be summed up by the chorus of En Vogue's hit "My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It)." As in, "never gonna get" legal medical marijuana, "never gonna get" a true end to the drug war, and "never gonna get" a distinctive or ideologically coherent overall policy.

Like the majority of the Republicans in the race, Romney supports the drug war ... at least most of the time. During his time as the Governor of Massachusetts, he had a generally "tough on drug crime" stance: in 2004 he supported a crackdown on drunk drivers that aimed to bring Massachusetts' notoriously lax penalties into line with federal norms. In 2005, his administration introduced legislation that would increase the penalties and fines for those charged with possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamines. And Romney proposed legislation that would provide funding for school districts that drug tested their students (though there is little evidence that many districts took him up on this offer).

His positions on the international dimensions of the war on drugs are a little less clear.

In 2007, Romney strongly supported American funding to Colombia to prevent "narco-terrorism" and keep "deadly drugs off our streets." His current campaign website follows in the same vein: A 2011 speech alludes to the ways our promising relationship with Mexico will "strengthen our cooperation on our shared problems of drugs and security." Similarly, a January 2012 press release posits that the "anti-American Bolivarian movement" led by the Castros and Hugo Chavez presents a "national security threat ... in the form of an enhanced drug-terror nexus."

However, in 2008 video, Romney criticized the "disappointing" war on drugs because it allowed for endless international spending, but only limited success. (Interestingly, it is unclear in this video if his examples of Colombia and Afghanistan are examples of the former or the latter.) He goes on to claim that our money would be better spent attempting to prevent American children from becoming users. On the one hand, this sounds like a progressive, harm-reductionist stance. And in New Hampshire last fall, Romney did tell a group of supporters that a key weapon in the continuing war on drugs was education about the dangers of drug abuse. But he absolved the state of any responsibility for education or outreach, arguing bizarrely that the war on drugs was not really a matter for the state to prosecute, but for the family, and asserting that the centerpiece of parents' anti-drug argument should be ... economic competitiveness. According to the Concord Monitor, Romney urged parents to remind their children that "if you don't get an education and you start pursuing a lifestyle with drugs and alcohol abuse, you're not going to be able to have the kind of life you'd like to have," because Americans who don't get an education will have to compete with people around the world who are willing to work for 50 cents an hour.

Presented by

Kelsey Harclerode is a research assistant at the University of Florida and a former staff assistant for U.S. Senator George LeMieux of Florida.

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