Physicians’ Perspective Can Noelle Bush give us trickle-down drug policy & prison reform? by Dr. Rick Bayer
Noelle Bush, daughter of Florida Governor Jeb Bush and niece of President George W. Bush, was caught with crack cocaine hidden in her shoe at a drug rehab facility (Orlando Sentinel, Sept. 11). Last July, she was sentenced to jail time for possessing forbidden pre-scription drugs at the same clinic. Jeb Bush has dodged media saying this “is a private matter”. In October, Bush lawyers sought a private trial which authorities call “unprecedented but not unexpected”.
Arianna Huffington, in her column A Crack House Divided, says, “I’m in total agreement with his insistence that his daughter’s substance abuse problem is a private issue. But when I think about the heartless stance the Governor has taken toward the drug problems of those less-fortunate and well-connected than his daughter, my empathy turns to outrage.” I agree with her.
Noelle Bush needs drug abuse treatment but prison is not the answer. In spite of federal drug war TV ads equating the President’s niece as the equivalent of a bomb-wielding terrorist, she presents no danger to US citizens and should not be imprisoned. She needs the same treatment that others with substance abuse problems deserve. Sadly, a double standard applies to common folks versus American aristocracy like the Bushes. Common folks go to prison.
Another example of the remarkable hypocrisy of the Bushes is that George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, continues to raid medical marijuana patients in California. Professor Ethan Nadelmann’s opinion piece in the San Diego Tribune on September 19 described a particularly scandalous raid by gun-toting federal DEA agents upon chronically and terminally ill persons who dared to use medical marijuana in compliance with state law (www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v02/n1804/a11.html?2811). These sadistic raids by George W. Bush’s attorney general are a political payback rewarding anti-marijuana moral crusaders who seek to shift more money into the drug wars while starving human services. President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft are savaging sick patients who seek relief of pain and other medical problems while simultaneously trampling civil liberties and bankrupting attempts by those of us who feel that health care and education should take priority over keeping our prisons bulging with nonviolent substance users and abusers. Patients and doctors should be free to decide if marijuana is an appropriate medication for a particular condition while common folks deserve the same consideration as Noelle Bush in their attempts to overcome substance abuse.
If politicians are serious about decreasing drug abuse, treatment is much more cost-effective (and humane) than drug interdiction. “Candidate” Bush promised that medical marijuana was a decision best decided by individual states. “President” Bush has decided that the “compassionate” part of conservatism is only for wealthy aristocracy like his niece, as he encourages his pit bull attorney general to aggressively pursue the war on drugs against chronically and terminally ill Americans who comply with state law.
In war, collateral damage is the norm, not the exception. The Summer/Fall issue of the newsletter of the Western Prison Project, Justice Matters, reports that between 1985 and 2000 total state spending on all corrections in Oregon grew by 600% while total state spending on higher education dropped by 10%. The Oregonian reported recently that in a national study, Oregon received an “F” grade in affordability of higher education. Of course, the clueless reporters and editors at The Oregonian cannot or will not connect the dots to report on how the transfer of spending from education to prisons has contributed to our current budget crisis and financial woes of our state education efforts.
When I contacted my state senator about this, he told me that if Oregonians are going to reprioritize spending to favor education and human services over prison building then we must allow judges more discretion in sentencing and seek changes that encourage drug abuse treatment in lieu of incarceration. This makes sense. It is imperative that we educate politicians and media about how we want our precious resources spent because the 2003 legislative session begins soon. It is time to curb our over-zealous appetite toward punishment. We need to use prisons only to lock away the truly dangerous. This would free up resources for education and human services so we can prevent conditions that contribute to incarceration. As the mind-numbing hypocrisy of the Noelle Bush quandary demonstrates, quality education and human services, including drug abuse treatment, must be available not only to wealthy American aristocracy but to all American citizens.
Rick Bayer, MD is board-certified in internal medicine, a fellow in the American College of Physicians – American Society of Internal Medicine, and practiced in Lake Oswego for many years. Co-author of Is Marijuana the Right Medicine For You? A Factual Guide to Medical Uses of Marijuana, he was a chief petitioner for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998, and manages www.omma1998.org that includes a medical cannabis/marijuana bibliography.