17 GOP Candidates, 4 Debate Hours, 0 Marijuana or Drug War Mentions


Last night was the first of the Republican Presidential candidates’ debates, presented by FOX News and Facebook, and in four hours there was not one mention of the War on Drugs. As fellow Marijuana Politics blogger Romain Bonilla noted, the debate would have been a great opportunity to discuss marijuana policy, but there wasn’t any mention of federal cannabis policy or the greater Drug War.

First there was a two-hour debate among the 11th – 17th highest-polling candidates, jokingly referred to as the “Kid’s Table Debate”, which by most accounts was won by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

Then in prime time, there was a two-hour debate among the top ten candidates, with billionaire Donald Trump continuing his unexpected dominance of the GOP field. Right from the start, FOX News moderators cast Trump as a wild-card candidate who has supported Democrats and liberal ideals, suggesting the rumors that he’d run as an independent would doom the eventual Republican nominee and lead to “another President Clinton”.

On and on the candidates regurgitated their talking points as the moderators presented them questions on immigration, gay marriage, abortion, ISIS, Iran, the economy, God, Obamacare, global warming, Medicaid, and Common Core.

But in all those four hours, there was nothing mentioned about the marijuana legalization that has now spread to four states and will be a feature of the 2016 Election in Nevada for certain and likely in California, Arizona, Michigan, and Massachusetts as well. Not even a broader question about the War on Drugs in general, or even a generalized question about mass incarceration.

It’s as if leading the world and all recorded history as the planet’s number one jailer doesn’t even register with the Republican Party.

The closest any question came to the issue was when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was asked about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. “It’s about training,” Walker said, adding that it’s vital to ensure “law enforcement professionals — not only on the way in but all the way through their time — have the proper training, particularly when it comes to use of force.” His dodge of the racial aspect of recent killings-by-cop is highlighted by the fact his state has the highest rate of African-American incarceration at over one-in-eight (13 percent).

Then FOX went to commercial, an ad for the NWA bio-pic “Straight Outta Compton”, that provided more insight into police brutality and race relations in 30 seconds than the debate did in four hours.

The only black person on the stage, Dr. Ben Carson, also deflected the question of race in America, explaining that as a neurosurgeon, he actually works on the part of us that makes us who we are and that the “hair doesn’t matter, skin doesn’t matter.” If that’s the case, Dr. Carson must be making the case that our jails and courts are disproportionately packed with black folks because they’re just bad people.

At the Kid’s Table Debate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, said that immigrants should “learn English, adopt our values, roll up your sleeves and get to work,” because “immigration without assimilation is an invasion.” One of Jindal’s current political ads explains that he is “tired of hyphenated Americans. We’re not Indian-Americans or African-Americans or Asian-Americans, we’re all Americans.” If that’s the case, Gov. Jindal ought to explain why all the Americans in prison tend to have darker skin than the free Americans.

The issues of police, race, and drugs are burning up Facebook and Twitter. It’s hard to believe that as FOX News is soliciting questions from Facebook for the candidates, not one question about marijuana legalization came up. Perhaps FOX knows that any answer the Republicans give (except, perhaps, Sen. Rand Paul) on the Drug War isn’t going to help their candidate defeat the Democrats in 2016.

Russ Belville

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on CannabisRadio.com, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland NORML.in 2015.