By Christopher Goins
Four third party presidential candidates debated civil liberties, education policy, and drug policy among other topics last week at a debate hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation.
The debate was held last Tuesday, October 23, where participants Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson took on questions from moderators Larry King and Christina Tobin.
On Drug Prohibition and the Federal “War on Drugs”
All but one of the third party presidential candidates agreed on legalizing marijuana.
“We don’t need to just legalize marijuana, we need to end drug prohibition just like we ended alcohol prohibition and treat drug use and abuse as a public health and education issue and get it entirely out of the criminal justice system,” said Anderson, noting that the United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world.
“We have more in prison on drug offenses than Western Europe on all offenses,” Anderson continued.
Gary Johnson concurred on legalization.
“Ninety-percent of the drug is prohibition-related not use-related and that is not to discount the problems with use and abuse but that should be the focus. So let’s legalize marijuana now,” said Johnson. ”So let’s regulate it. Let’s tax it.”
Johnson admitted that he is “not a hypocrite on this issue,” acknowledging that he has smoked marijuana and drank alcohol in the past, but no longer does so.
“But I can tell you categorically that no category is marijuana more dangerous than alcohol and yet we are arresting 1.8 million a year in this country on drug-related crimes,” Johnson said.
Marijuana legalization “is not about advocating drug use,” says Johnson.
Additionally, Johnson noted that of those who graduate from high school, 50 percent of them have smoked marijuana, and added that is an issue that should be dealt with within the family and not the criminal justice system.
He also called “meth,” short for methamphetamine, the “boogeyman drug,” saying that use falls “disparagingly” on the poor.
“It’s the best example we can think of a prohibition drug. It’s cheap. It’s easy to make so the consequences fall disparagingly of the poor,” Johnson said.
The lone medical doctor on the stage brought her medical experience to bear onto the issue.
“As a medical doctor previously in clinical practice for about 25 years,” said Jill Stein, “I can say with a real understanding of the science and the health impacts, that marijuana is a substance that is dangerous because its illegal. It’s not illegal on account of being dangerous because its not dangerous at all.”
“It is well understood that the health impacts of marijuana are mainly the public health and safety impacts from the illegal drug trade associated with marijuana prohibition,” she continued. “So the most important thing we can do to get rid of the health problems associated with marijuana is to legalize it.”
Jill Stein says that on Day One a president could instruct the Drug Enforcement Agency to use science to determine what substances will and will not be scheduled.
“Because the minute science is used marijuana is off the schedule,” she said. “The same goes for hemp which is also a substance for which there are no bad drug effects. There are no bad health and safety effects.”
Marijuana should be regulated, Stein says, but not in a way that will lead to a monopoly like the tobacco industry “but permits small businesses to actually flourish.”
Former Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) said that he would not legalize drugs, but that he would cut back federal spending on the “war on drugs,” emphasizing that the so-called “war on drugs” is a minor part of the federal budget, and called drug use a state issue.
On the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
All of the candidates agreed on either repealing or vetoing the National Defense Authorization Act, a bill signed by President Obama on December 31, 2011, which the American Civil Liberties Union says codifies “indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history.”
“The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president — and all future presidents — to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield,” said the ACLU in a blog post.
JIll Stein called the NDAA “a basic offense against the very foundation of american liberty,” and said that it should be repealed.
“We should also repeal the presidents interpretation of the enforcement act of 2001 – the military use act – that said that assassinations are in the power of the president,” Stein said.
The Justice Party candidate said: “What we have seen through the Bush years and now with President Obama has been so absolutely subversive and anti-American.”
Anderson continued: “There’s been no more anti-American act in our history than the NDAA. President Obama, don’t be fooled about this, in 2009 he asked for the power to indefinitely detain people without charges, without a trial, without legal assistance, and without the right to habeas corpus.”
“We are on the road to totalitarianism and that’s not an exaggeration,” Anderson said.
On Education Policy
Johnson explained that because of “guaranteed government student loans” prospective college students have no excuse for not pursuing education.
Colleges and universities, he contended, are “immune” from offering lower prices that they would otherwise have to if a prospective student had to re-think their ability to pay for tuition.
But, he added, “when that happens enmasse I guarantee you the cost of college tuition the price would drop dramatically,” noting that is a situation that currently does not exist.
He called the current state of affairs where college tuition is high and unaffordable is one of the “unintended consequences” of the current government intervention in higher education.
Jill Stein took a different view.
“I think its time to make public higher education free as it should be,” Stein said.
Stein likened the idea to the G.I. Bill and public high school education. But Johnson disagreed.
“Free comes with a cost. Free, very simply, is spending more money than what you take in,” Johnson said. “Free is simply accumulating more to the $16 trillion dollars in debt that we currently have. Free is gotten us to the point where we are going to experience a monetary collapse in this country, due to the fact that we continue to borrow and print more money than we take in,” he shot back.
“This is what has to stop in this country is the notion of free.”
But Anderson and Stein disagreed.
“We can not afford not to provide a great education and equality of opportunity for all of our young people in this country. We need to insist on prosperity, not austerity,” said Anderson, who was seconded by Stein.
In his rebuttal, Virgil Goode pointed out that President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney both wanted to expand Pell grants and student loans, per Romney’s statements in a recent presidential debate.
“You’ve got four candidates you can look to if that’s your big issue,” Goode said, pointing to Stein and Anderson positions on education.