Mitch Daniels on Drugs

Well this is interesting:

After Mitch Daniels '71 was arrested, indicted and convicted on charges of drug use as an undergraduate in May 1970, he said that he thought his aspiring political career was doomed. "Any goal I might have had for competing for public office were shot," he told The Daily Princetonian in September 1988...

Perhaps the most pivotal day of Daniels' four years at Princeton was May 14, 1970 — the day of the drug arrest that Daniels thought would sully his political future. Officers found enough marijuana in his room to fill two size 12 shoe boxes, reports of the incident say. He and the other inhabitants of the room were also charged with possession of LSD and prescription drugs without a prescription. Daniels and his two roommates in 111 Cuyler Hall, Marc Stuart '71 and Richard Stockton '71, were arrested and, after plea bargaining, Daniels eventually escaped with a $350 fine for "maintaining a common nuisance."

The article mentions a Washington Post op-ed Daniels wrote in 1989 admitting to the incident, so I tracked it down (it's not online unless you want to pay). What I found was a pretty extraordinary combination of whitewash and hypocrisy:

In calling for enforcement of drug laws against even casual users -- publicizing the names of arrestees, at least minimal fines or jail time for those convicted and requiring no-use policies from colleges and other beneficiaries of government funds and so on -- William Bennett is exactly right. The threshold test of seriousness on the drug issue -- for President Bush in reviewing the plan and for your congressman in reacting to it -- will be their enthusiasm for these sections. In my opinion, any public official who shrinks from user sanctions should be disqualified from further participation in the drug debate.

Pontification this lofty requires, I recognize, qualifications. Regrettably, I have credentials. Two decades ago -- half my life ago -- there occurred the unfortunate confluence of my wild oats period and America's libertine apogee. On my college campus, just as on most college campuses, marijuana was as easy to obtain as Budweiser beer and was viewed with equal complacency. For a time, I was a carefree consumer of both.

In those days, the law had not yet thrown in the towel on small-timers. After one party too many, two friends and I ended up enjoying the hospitality of the local police for two nights. We had been arrested. A few months later, a stern-faced judge fined me $ 350 for use of marijuana.

The effect was immediate, and it has been enduring. My young Midwestern tail was jerked back into line, where it has remained through 20 years of law-abiding, rather conventional life, which has included marriage and fatherhood.

Try not to get distracted by the despicable assertion that anyone who holds a position different from Daniels' "should be disqualified from further participation in the drug debate." See how Daniels describes his possession of an amount of marijuana that under current law would almost certainly qualify as "intent to distribute," not to mention LSD, as nothing more than "after one party too many." He certainly doesn't mention the two shoeboxes full of pot -- he'd obviously rather let you think the cops found him passed out with a roach in his pocket.

The comically mild penalty he received -- a $350 fine, no jail time, no probation -- was a salutary wake-up call that allowed him to go on to a productive career. And he presents this as evidence in favor of laws that would absolutely destroy the career of anybody caught in 1989 (or today) doing what Daniels was caught doing. A couple of hundred thousand students have lost their financial aid, in many cases meaning they had to drop out of college, because of a conviction for possession or sale of drugs. If Daniels were in college today, and thus had actually served time as a convicted drug dealer, not only would he have no political future, he wouldn't have much of a future at all.

But his logic seems be this: When the police found me with a huge amount of drugs, I was given a slap on the wrist, and I then went on to a productive life. Which shows that kids today who did what I did ought to have to leave school and get chucked in jail with murderers and rapists. Perhaps Daniels has changed his position on this issue since 1989 -- lots of other people have. But it's worth asking, particularly since he's probably going to run for president, if not next year then in 2016.

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