Larry King Hosts Third Party Debate: Presidential Candidates Slam the Drug War

Marijuana plants grow at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, in Sea
Marijuana plants grow at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, in Seattle. Washington state is on the verge of becoming the first in the nation to let adults over 21 buy taxed, inspected marijuana at state-licensed shops. Supporters of Initiative 502 say allowing recreational pot sales could make drug laws a little more reasonable, prevent thousands of arrests a year, and bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay for schools, health care and basic government services. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

At Tuesday night's third-party debate on C-SPAN, Larry King asked the four candidates a question that neither Romney nor Obama has been willing to address: "How does the war on drugs affect Americans?"

Three out of the four candidates agreed the drug war does more harm than good -- calling for not just a public health approach to drug policy but also legal regulation of currently-illicit drugs like marijuana.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidate Jill Stein spent more than ten minutes discussing the failures of drug prohibition and the urgent need for reforms. It's rare to see such truth and honesty from politicians talking about the failed drug war. All three candidates received rousing applause -- so you might be wondering, why don't more politicians speak out against the failed war on drugs?

"We don't just need to legalize marijuana," said Anderson. "We need to end drug prohibition just like we ended alcohol prohibition and treat drug use and abuse as a public health and education issue, and get it entirely out of the criminal justice system."

Johnson added, "Ninety percent of the drug problem is prohibition-related, not use-related... that should be the focus. So let's legalize marijuana now. Right now in this country, we are at a tipping point on this issue." He later went on to say, "Look, this is not about advocating drug use. Fifty percent of kids graduating from high school have smoked marijuana -- that's an issue that belongs with families, not in the criminal justice system."

Stein, a physician and internist who graduated from Harvard Medical School, said "the most important thing we can do to get rid of the health problems associated with marijuana is to legalize it."

In the final debate for President Obama and Mitt Romney, moderator Bob Schieffer referred to the war in Afghanistan as America's longest war. But America's longest war is actually the war on drugs, which turned 40 last year. We've spent more than one trillion dollars fighting this unwinnable war, thousands have lost their lives for it, and the madness will only continue until the public leaves elected officials no choice but to pull their heads out of the sand.

Some mainstream politicians like Obama and Romney still feel the need to distance themselves from drug policy reform. But that dynamic is rapidly shifting, as local, state and national politicians who support drug policy reform win elections while those who support the drug war pay an increasingly steep price at the polls for their narrow-mindedness.

Fifty-one percent of Americans support taxing and regulating marijuana and well over seventy percent support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. By excluding third party candidates from the presidential debates, not only are Americans limited to the two parties, but urgent issues that the two main parties refuse to address -- like the war on drugs -- are silenced. It's time to join courageous leaders like Gary Johnson, Rocky Anderson and Jill Stein in calling for a different approach.

Derek Rosenfeld is Internet communications associate for Drug Policy Action.