The Bush Vs. Kerry Briefs: The War On Drugs

Candidates differ on mandatory minimums, college-aid plans.

From "Just Say No" to "I did not inhale," presidents of the past few decades have tackled the problem of illegal drugs from all sorts of different angles, and while drugs and drug laws haven't featured heavily in campaign speeches this year, the issue continues to impact more and more Americans.

Incarceration or rehabilitation?

One of the fundamental questions for drug-policy makers is whether to punish drug offenders, rehabilitate them, or a little of both.

Funding for rehab programs has increased during President Bush's tenure, but at the same time the Bush administration has taken an aggressive approach to drug prosecution and mandatory minimum sentences for even minor drug crimes (see "Mandatory Sentencing Crowds Jails But Still Isn't A Big Campaign Issue").

John Kerry, a former county prosecutor, has said that progress on drug abuse depends on changing the approach to focus more heavily on treatment and education. He has promised to review the mandatory-sentencing rules that send thousands to prison for nonviolent minor drug crimes, but he's given no specific plans to change them.

Higher education

Of particular interest to college-bound voters is a portion of the 1996 Higher Education Act that denies federal financial aid to any student convicted of a drug crime.

Bush wants to change the law so that students busted while they're currently receiving aid will lose it, but people convicted before they apply for aid can still get money for school.

Kerry agrees that the law needs to be amended, but he proposes a slightly different approach. He's vowed to repeal part of that law so that students busted for simple possession won't lose their aid, and only dealers will kiss their aid goodbye.

An experienced leader

The question of prior drug use — a campaign standard since the children of the '60s began running for office — is also out there in this campaign. Kerry has admitted to smoking marijuana use in the past. Bush is not so forthcoming with his answer. While he has a known history of alcohol abuse, he hasn't answered questions about his past drug use.

For more information on the candidates and their positions, check back at this week for more Bush vs. Kerry briefs. And don't forget to vote on November 2!