If George W. Bush were poor, black and grew up in south central Los Angeles, his past drug use could very well have landed him in jail. But as a son of the ruling class - his father was also U.S. president - Bush has the luxury of dismissing his past behaviour as being "young and irresponsible."
"I'm not going to talk about what I did as a child," a Washington Post story quoted Bush as saying, while he was still governor of Texas. "What's relevant is that I have learned from any mistakes that I made. I do not want to send signals to anybody that what Governor Bush did 30 years ago is cool to try."
This past March, an Ottawa Citizen story referred to, "Bush's former cocaine use."
Some media critics, meanwhile, argue that the press has no business poking into the private lives of politicians. In response, the online magazine Salon argued that, "What matters here is not what Bush should or shouldn't say about himself, but whether he and all other politicians advocating harsh punishment of drug offenders can square that failed policy with their personal experience."
As governor of Texas, Bush slashed funding for prison drug-treatment programs, and increased penalties for people convicted of selling or possessing less than a gram of cocaine. What would the younger, "irresponsible" Dubya think of this?
But what's truly frightening, is that the new president is considering expanding Plan Colombia, the $1.3 billion US program approved by the previous Clinton administration to fight the drug trade in South America.
According to a July 25 story by The Associated Press, the White House is considering increasing U.S. military training and aid to the Colombian armed forces, which have come under repeated attack by human rights groups for their role in Colombia's brutal civil war. The AP story quoted Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, as it's source.
So here's our situation: a former drug user is heading a disastrous war on drugs. This war, as Forget Magazine readers have been told in previous columns, has had numerous troubling consequences. Among them:
—Washington has hired mercenary-like groups to fight the narcotics trade (Drug War 1);
—Journalists who report on the drug war are under attack (Drug War 4);
—Corruption has spread among the anti-drug forces (Drug War 6).
Canadians should pay attention two what is going on down south. As we noted last week, there is a growing movement in Canada to decriminalize marijuana. This movement, however, faces its biggest obstacle not in 24 Sussex Drive but in the White House. In other words, U.S. hypocrisy has a direct impact on Canadian domestic policy.
But what about our own politicians? What should they have to admit about their possible own drug use? Well, the same standard must apply to them as Salon used on Bush. If you advocate or implement a costly policy that imprisons people for selling drugs, then you have a responsibility to the electorate to come clean about your own drug past.
So to conclude, let's take a look at what some of our political leaders have said about drugs.
When asked if they had ever smoked marijuana, both Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Finance Minister Paul Martin said no.
Health Minister Allan Rock, who made marijuana legal for medical purposes, has never fully admitted in public to smoking pot. However, when asked the question a couple years ago, he replied, "I've never smoked marijuana - for medicinal purposes."
The House of Commons is planning to hold hearings on the non-medical use of drugs. Rock has repeatedly said that he welcomes a discussion on whether marijuana should be legalized.
Finally, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and Ontario Premier Mike Harris, the two most powerful provincial politicians in the country, hold different opinions on decriminalization.
Klein, who has said publicly he favours decriminalizing pot, has admitted to passing the dutchie numerous times.
During the 1999 Ontario election, meanwhile, Harris said he has never taken a toke. "I found booze a little more attractive," he told journalists. A spokesman for the premier told the National Post last year that Harris is against decriminalizing marijuana.