Why The Story Matters


The most important cocaine question for George W. Bush is this: would you seek long prison terms for today’s 18-year-olds for doing what you say you may or may not have done as a young man–and when you now suggest that whatever you did was a mere youthful indiscretion, and thus irrelevant to your candidacy?

Countless thousands of people are rotting in prisons all across America–many in Texas–for being caught with small amounts of cocaine or crack, its smokable variant. Many were only peripherally involved in drug sales. Some were mere users. As governor of Texas, Bush–like most other politicians in both parties–has joined in this orgy of punishment with enthusiasm, signing laws that toughen penalties for drug users as well as pushers, and that send juveniles as young as 14 to prison for especially serious crimes, including some drug crimes.

How can he square this with his position that whether he used drugs is irrelevant to his candidacy? If Bush won’t tell us whether he used cocaine or other illegal drugs in his first 28 years–and there’s no evidence that he did–he should at least tell us whether his admitted but unspecified “young and irresponsible” escapades would have landed him in prison had the drug laws he supports been enforced against him.

In 1997 Bush signed a measure authorizing judges to give jail time to people convicted of possessing (or selling) less than one gram (one twenty-eighth of an ounce) of cocaine. Texas sentencing guidelines had previously prescribed mandatory probation for such small quantities. And in 1995, Bush pushed through the new law expanding the list of crimes for which juveniles as young as 14 (down from 15) can be tried and imprisoned as adults.

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