“Legalizing All Drugs” Makes The Iowa Dems Platform Too Easy To Ignore

During a lengthy state convention this weekend, the new official platform for the Iowa Democratic Party got notably more progressive, thanks in particular to the many new Bernie Sanders supporters. An addition to a $15/hour minimum wage was easily passed, the environmental section opposed fossil fuels and had robust water quality measures, and a plank supported a single payer healthcare system. After some contentious debates, delegates also voted for opposing Superdelegates.

And then they got to the “Criminal Justice” section. That’s where the couple hundred delegates still around late into the evening voted in favor of the “Legalizing all drugs” plank. This was after a discussion over a minority report that would have revised that language to “Decriminalizing all drugs.”

So yes, that would presumably include legalizing meth, heroin and cocaine. Many of the delegates were in favor of legalizing cannabis, but that was accomplished in a separate plank – so this very clearly was about legalizing all drugs.

It’s difficult to know where to start with this, and is partially why it took a few days to write it. Let’s start with the arguments in favor of it.

Several speakers on the topic at convention argued that the pharmaceutical industry has already legalized many of the ingredients of meth, that we’re spending too much money putting people in prison, and that legalization would allow the state to control the distribution, which could focus on getting people off their addiction. Other proponents argue that prohibition doesn’t eliminate a product, it just makes it more dangerous and forces a black market that often becomes very violent. They also point to certain countries in Europe that had success with full legalization. And they say when you’re not in fear of prosecution, you’re much more likely to seek treatment.

But those opposed can hardly fathom that Iowa would outright legalize – not just decriminalize – all drugs. Many believe that would lead to increased experimentation that would draw more people in to drug use. A black market would likely still exist for those not wanting to have the government wean them off a drug. Drug dealers aren’t suddenly going to go live upstanding lives. And many drugs have a horrendous affect on people’s minds and bodies. Just because our current drug laws haven’t worked well doesn’t mean we should up and legalize everything – there are plenty of policies we haven’t enacted yet, including better funding for treatment and rehabilitation and an end to mandatory minimums along with lesser sentencing – if any at all – for nonviolent drug offenders.

An important caveat, however, is that the party’s platform has a strict word limit that diminishes the ability to really flesh out the nuances of these arguments. One delegate had a particularly helpful series of tweets you may want to read through:

Still, the reaction the next day from activists who hadn’t stayed so late were not very favorable (and yes, they could have stayed to vote, but the bigger issue here is that it’s a dumb way to craft the platform – until 2:00am with a bunch of exhausted people). The press reports weren’t too good either, and party leaders were quick to distance themselves.

Some Sanders supporters online expressed frustration over the backlash, seeming to think it meant the party didn’t take their concerns seriously. But what it could also be seen as is simply a disagreement over policy. Sanders supporters wanted the party to have a more open discussion over progressive issues – now we are. You can’t expect everyone to immediately come over on every single piece of policy – especially this one. Legalizing all drugs has not been discussed barely at all in the Democratic Party. That’s much more a Ron Paul/libertarian sort of thing, so some surprise should be expected.

And folks will likely continue to discuss whether the policy aspect of it was right or wrong. However, on a political level, it was downright foolish.

First, when it comes to campaigns, Iowa candidates have been attacked in the past on what their party platform reads, even if they themselves never said it. Campaigns can get around the legal hurdles of libel this way, even though it’s pretty silly. So in theory Republicans could blast out mailers this year that say State Senator Liz Mathis supports legal meth, with a little citation of the platform at the bottom of the page.

Of course, that may not happen because that could very easily backfire. In 2010 in Sioux City the Democratic Party hit Jeremy Taylor for supposedly wanting to do away with Social Security, using a part of the Republican Party of Iowa’s platform as justification, and added in a picture of an old woman eating cat food on a mail piece to drive the point home. Taylor easily turned that around and caused blowback for his Democratic opponent.

It’s unlikely anyone in Marion would believe that Senator Mathis actually thinks Iowa should legalize meth (because she doesn’t), so the Republicans probably wouldn’t try such a thing. And there’s plenty of extreme parts of the Republican platform that Democrats would be more than happy to use in response.

And in general Democrats shouldn’t craft their platform based off of what could or couldn’t be used in a campaign. It should be a wish list, and it should sometimes press the party’s own candidates further on issues the base cares about. But it should still be done with some level of care. “Legalizing all drugs” is the complete opposite of that, and is incredibly reckless.

On the internal political side, it doesn’t help the more progressive members of the party that want the platform to be more impactful. Like a “poison pill” amendment in a larger bill in Congress, this plank simply makes it way too easy for Democratic candidates and elected officials to ignore the whole thing. And voting to legalize all drugs, including heroin and cocaine, just sounds plain goofy to those who don’t know the rationale behind it, and even to some who do.

It’s also a matter of choosing your battles. Probably 99% of the things in the platform are more likely to be accomplished before Iowa or America gets to a place (if ever) where they’re going to legalize all drugs in order to address the complicated problems of drug abuse. Even if Democrats controlled the Governor’s office, Senate and House in Iowa, that still would be nowhere near the agenda to even be discussed.

So it’s not something that has a chance of passing, there are plenty of other policy methods to address problems with drug abuse, and it’s needlessly politically dangerous that it diminishes the value of the rest of the platform.

The big question a lot of Democrats and progressives are trying to figure out right now is how to make the party and candidates embrace more progressive policy measures. The party platform route is always difficult because there’s no real mechanism to enforce it, but it is one way of officially registering where the party stands. Candidates will at least pay some attention to it, even if they don’t follow it exactly.

But where’s the balance? What’s the most effective method to assert pressure or encourage elected officials to support your cause? That’s a tricky answer many of these new activists will have to figure out going forward. I don’t think this specific platform plank did them any favors, but all of politics is a set of trials and errors, adjusting strategy and finding what works. There was a lot of great stuff in the Democrats’ new platform, so here’s hoping that happens.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 6/21/16


11 Comments on "“Legalizing All Drugs” Makes The Iowa Dems Platform Too Easy To Ignore"

  • If you really want to have a champion for progressive policy issues, you’ll have to change the person, not the platform. I’m not calling for primaries of moderate to liberal Democrats, but it’s completely irrational to expect (for example) Mike Gronstal to suddenly turn into Bernie Sanders just because the activists of his district (or state) are more progressive today than yesterday. I the ultra-progressives would do better to advance their agenda by helping elect like-minded SCC members (which they have) and legislators.

  • “Legalizing all drugs” will sink the Democratic Party. Not even Democrats, such as myself, would ever support that plank. It is the work of Sanders supporters–and I doubt it is a part of Sanders program.

    The Democratic Party will have problems with Sanders supporters. Too many controversial issues are coming too soon as the majority of Iowa voters are basically conservative (especially concerning drugs). That issue will be tied to ALL Democrats running, and with “legalizing all drugs” Grassley will get back into the Senate and we Democrats could easily lose most Democratic seats in the Legislature (both chambers) and become a non-party.

    At the convention, hopefully, calmer and saner minds will discard this highly divisive and bankrupting plank. Sanders has never been a Democrat and the Democratic Party (state and national) needs to take a hard look at his delegates. Were they Democrats before the convention? I know several and they were a part of the Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party and want to destroy the Democratic Party. With that plank, Donald Trump could easily be elected as President of the USA and with his ascent the Supreme Court will go back to the nineteenth century.

    • For the sake of our Party, let’s hope that Dr. Ide’s comments represent an extreme minority view.

      I, for one, am not ready to concede November’s elections. Instead of preemptively assigning blame for a failure that need not occur, we should come together as a party and prevent that failure from occurring. If ultimately there is blame to be assigned this November, it will rest more squarely on our inability to come together than on three words in the middle of the State platform.

      Regardless of our respective Presidential preferences, we must work as one to make sure our Congressional delegation contains more than one Democratic and that our State House contains more than it does today. Finger-pointing and questioning the place of fellow Democrats at the party table is not going to get us there.

      But let us remember, working toward common goals means that we must all be willing to listen to each other and accept that we all have contributions to make. It doesn’t mean requiring every Democrat to fit the same mold. Even as we all work toward common goals, you can count on me and many other individuals who were delegates for Senator Sanders to continue to push our party in a more progressive direction. If our party hopes to succeed this year and beyond, it will view that as an opportunity rather than a threat.

      And, for the record: (1) Upon becoming eligible to vote in 1996, I registered as a Democrat and have remained so ever since with the exception of the brief period of 2004 – 2007 when I was registered as an independent but continued to vote Democratic. I have never cast a vote for a Republican for any office. Thanks for asking. Incidentally, I don’t recall my Democratic bona fides being called into question when I caucused for Bill Richardson in ’08 (though, in retrospect, maybe somebody should have; not sure what I was thinking); (2) At this year’s State Democratic Convention, I cast my voice vote on the drug issue in favor of the minority report which would have struck the plank. My reasoning was this: a broad spectrum of thoughtful and intelligent views were expressed during the debate on this plank; the only common thread seemed to be that the current approach doesn’t work. It seemed to me that the plank failed to capture the complexity of the issue or to adequately represent the views that the delegates were expressing, even many of those who spoke in favor of the plank. Therefore, I voted to strike it, preferring silence to a statement that failed to capture the essence of the issue. I was outvoted. It’s democracy. I got over it. Incidentally, I wasn’t the only Sanders delegate who voted this way. In general, I was heartened to see that there was a range of opinion and votes on most issues from delegates of all persuasions. Neither Clinton nor Sanders delegates voted in lock-step on most issues. Independent minds considered the issues, formed their own opinions and voted their consciences. It made me proud to be a Democrat.

  • As someone who voted in favor of this plank, I feel that I should respond to this. Due to word limitations mentioned in the article, one very important part of this plank was omitted. Legalize(, regulate, and tax) all drugs.

    We all agree that the drug war has been a dismal failure. It has done nothing to curb drug abuse. It has given an easy and constant supply of money to criminals world wide. It has also created many felons, who represent the new underclass of society.

    No one is advocating a libertarian drug free for all and putting cocaine back in coca-cola. The reason to support this is to step by step reform drug laws and focus on treatment over punishment. To also force the black market into the sunlight. To stop throwing tax payer money at a problem that no amount of law enforcement has fixed.

    You want Mexican cartels and Columbian drug lords to go away? You make them have to operate in the sunlight and make their activities as they operate now unprofitable. Same with the meth cooker down the street.

    To reiterate the point of the plank isn’t cocaine and heroin sold in every gas station. Countries such as Uruguay and the Netherlands have legalized and aren’t awash in junkies. Systemic issues require bold conversation and sometimes bold reform.

    Balls in your court everyone else. Talk to us.

    • As an independent voter which would never think about voting for a democrat;also as a recovering convicted felon. Who not only can’t vote for the laws that convicted me. I have always had a job and rarely called in sick. Never missed a weekend or game of my kids.Everyday my past continues to punish me for crimes that were suppose to be in the past.background checks,slanderous accusations have become ok.I will never be able to really get a very high paying job.I believe most people support these laws that not only effect the user. The families,taxpayers,lending institutions,all with good intentions,have been left to pay the Bill for legislation that was driven by fears, not facts during the Reagan admin.Laws passed to deter this lifestyle choice.I don’t know what facts those legislators were given to work with.L ets just say statistics have improved in accuracy. Bottom line: when looking at untimely deaths from the nations coraner reports,all of the drugs together are less risky than smoking,drinking,poor diet,getting in your car to go to work,and allergic reactions to aspirin.look it up.Also,I have great respect for the dept of corrections and the counselors I got to know and helped me. Using the basic fundamentals that bring success with most people who are going thru the rehabilitation process, having a job,residence,fines being paid are the hope of the addict when released.I remember each probation officer preparing me for the hope of success and how tough it was going to be to stay clean, repair the personal,financial,and legal issues mixed with the battle of sobriety being the goal.The odds of success are low for this outcome.Most times people have lost good paying jobs,homes,families broken and never been considered improvement. The cost enforcing these laws in a state that is building prisons to enforce stricter than most other states penalties for the same crime to hold mostly drug offenders.@ how much per person? So we take a person who should be working during the prime years of his adult life,paying in social security, taxes,leaving a higher probability of having to use those services earlier in life.When reading the headlines that the democrats got one right.Any opposition to changing failed policy with proven failed results is way overdo.It will win the election and improve the economy. Also public trust in lawmakers fixing obvious mistakes made during the process proven by the numbers. It can’t be debated.We would be reflected by closing prisons.We don’t close casinos to prevent our kids from gambling addiction.It’s ok for a doctor to prescribe methamphetamine to our kids,but a danger otherwise.Go to mayo clinic site and punch in methamphetamine. Please show me what action it is that only a person who does drugs does that has never been done by a non user. Good luck.

  • The Government & Law subcommittee had “Decriminalize all drugs” until the discussion (six minutes each, pro and con) to change it to “Legalize all drugs.” The reasons were clear to change it. Six minutes each, pro and con, at the convention did it too, because otherwise it conflicts with the principles of the platform.

  • Legalizing drugs is the right thing to do, but unpopular because too few understand.

    Alcohol ranked most harmful, worse than meth and heroin, both to addicts and to society, in a review published in Lancet Medical Journal in 2010.

    Alcohol prohibition (1920-1933) caused problems similar to now:
    • Undetermined strength and purity increases overdose rates.
    • Addicts fear calling 9-1-1 for help.
    • Rehab is longer and more difficult because the first step is to remove the stigma, so the patient understands that it’s a medical problem (Dr. Thomas Pattee June 8th at Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative’s town hall).
    • It’s lucrative, but dealers can’t use the judicial system to settle differences so they shoot (sometimes hitting bystanders).
    • The black market feeds international drug cartels, causing additional violence.
    Drugs used in surgery are essentially the same, but rarely cause addiction there. Trauma and isolation correlate with addiction, and research suggests a likely inherited component according to Dr. Pattee.
    Moral solution:
    • Stop additional trauma, isolation, and stigma.
    • Legalize all drugs (and save taxpayer dollars).

    A http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W22plPdbgsA a

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