Few of America’s public policies are as destructive and inhumane as those on drug addiction, crime, and voting rights.
Our drug policies throw hundreds of thousands of people in jail for nonviolent crimes like selling or possessing plant material. Even a brief prison sentence can expose someone to violent crime or make it impossible to get a job. Such sentences have ruined the lives of tens of thousands of nonviolent, peaceful Americans. I’ll support a widespread overhaul of our sentencing and imprisonment systems, so the lives of nonviolent young Americans aren’t systematically ruined.
So many young Americans have been stuck with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but no Wall Street crooks went to jail for causing the 2008 crisis which cost millions of jobs and trillions of dollars– an outrage which ranks among the highest of injustices in recent history.
Our low-level of voter turnout is also shameful for the world’s oldest democracy, yet we have politicians who are trying to drive turnout even lower through politically-motivated dirty tricks like gerrymandering and purging of voter rolls.
Tackling the Addiction Epidemic
The Growing Opioid Crisis
Over the last two decades, America, and Appalachia in particular, has been slowly stricken with the healthcare crisis of drug addiction. Much of this addiction is due to use and abuse of opioid painkiller medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and tramadol. When these drugs were first developed and marketed in the early 1990’s, the drug companies actually claimed that they were safe and nonaddictive painkillers. Thirty years later, we all know these claims to be tremendous lies, and our rural communities are now paying the price.
Meanwhile, hundreds of crooked drug companies and pharmacies continue to distribute millions of highly-addictive prescription opioid pills every week. Thousands of Americans who started using these painkillers after injuries and surgeries have ended up addicted to opioids; and when the prescriptions run out, many end up seeking harder and more dangerous street drugs like heroin and fentanyl just to cope with their increasing addiction.
It’s time to dump the idea that addiction is a character flaw or a weakness and start treating it like the medical illness that it actually is. We need to significantly expand drug courts and mental health interventions for our fellow citizens who struggle with addiction, so they can begin genuine paths to sobriety. The wealthiest country on earth should never accept a system that throws its ill and addicted citizens into prison.
The lack of access to regular and affordable healthcare has made the opioid crisis even worse. Oftentimes, people go to the doctor at the initial stages of pain and injury, but cannot afford to continue their pain treatment with regular checkups. This starts off the dangerous path toward self-medication and buying drugs off the street. In countless cases, innocent pain management programs have lead toward downward spirals of addiction.
Healing the Addicted and Supporting Sobriety
That’s why my healthcare reform plan, which is available above, is so important. Under my “Americare” plan, US citizens would be able to see a doctor whenever they need to without worrying about costs or financial burdens. People in pain management programs should have unlimited access to healthcare professionals, who can safely and gradually work them off opioid painkillers.
We also need to significantly increase funding to collect better data on opioid prescriptions, heroin arrests, overdoses, and deaths. The current data collection efforts from states and the federal government is woefully inadequate. Researchers need these data to be accurate and timely in order to tackle this crisis, especially given how fast it can evolve and destroy lives.
While we already have effective prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction, these strategies are highly underutilized across the United States. We need to expand and fund improved education of healthcare providers in managing pain and prescribing opioids appropriately.
I support wider availability and adoption of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, which research has shown to be a lifesaver to people who use opioids, their families, and potential bystanders, and extensive implementation of other evidence-based treatment strategies. Naloxone, like other patented drugs, is only as expensive as it is because the US government has granted its manufacturer a monopoly in the form of a patent. By modernizing our patent policies towards drugs and medical devices, as described in my “Americare” plan, we could significantly reduce the costs of life-savings drugs like Naloxone, so money is never a consideration when someone’s life is on the line.
I also want to drastically expand the availability of proven treatments like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These drugs have been proven to help people who are trying to get clean and avoid relapses, but unfortunately the stigma attached to these treatments has prevented their wider implementation.
These medications could help many people recover from opioid addiction, but they remain highly underutilized. Overcoming the misunderstandings that prevent wider adoption of these treatments will be a crucial step in tackling this epidemic of addiction.
Incarceration and Drug Policy
Ending the Disastrous War on Drugs
Our drug policies throw hundreds of thousands of people in jail for nonviolent crimes like selling or possessing plant material. Even a brief prison sentence can expose someone to violent crime or make it impossible to get a job. Such sentences have ruined the lives of tens of thousands of nonviolent, peaceful Americans.
So many young Americans have been stuck with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but no Wall Street crooks went to jail for causing the 2008 financial and economic crisis which cost millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. These Wall Street crooks stole large sums money from American citizens – and this outrage ranks among the highest of injustices in our modern era.
I support removing marijuana from the list of federally prohibited drugs, and allowing legal marijuana businesses full participation in the banking system. The Department of Justice, DEA, and FinCEN should not continue to waste resources on enforcing pointless and outdated marijuana laws.
A More Compassionate and Humane Justice System
The U.S. prison population in 1970 was just above 327,000. The current prison population is over 2 million. Furthermore, while a white male has a 1 in 17 chance of ending up behind bars, for a black male, it is 1 in 3.
I’ll support a widespread overhaul of our sentencing and imprisonment systems, so the lives of nonviolent young Americans aren’t systematically ruined. This includes standing against “three-strikes laws” and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that interfere with Constitutional rights and legal processes.
For too long, prosecutors and judges have been all to eager to jail men and women for the pettiest of crimes. It is an international embarrassment that the US puts more of its citizens behind bars than any other country on earth. Even China, with a population three times as large as ours, an unelected government, and no Constitutional rights to due processes and fair trial, doesn’t jail as many of its people as we do.
It is morally offensive that we have prisons run by for-profit corporations all over the country. Imprisonment, to the extent it is appropriate, is a public necessity, and should never be considered a profitable enterprise for any business. A profit motive in the prison system makes no economic sense, and has contributed to America’s sky-high imprisonment rate.
Private prisons are also notorious for overcrowding, poor hygiene and cleanliness, inmate abuse, and immigrant exploitation. We Americans are humane and compassionate people, so we must end this private prison racket.
Gender and Sexuality
Regardless of one’s personal beliefs, we must all remain loyal to America’s founding creeds that “all men [and women] are created equal”, and all must be treated equally under the law. As such, we must makes sure that our nation’s laws and policies are regularly being updated to keep pace with the advancement of society- and we must commit adequate resources to ensure that these statutory protections are constantly enforced.
It is no secret that many employers in this country are not treating all their employees equally. We know that women are often paid less than men for the exact same work, and often face casual discrimination, sexism, and unwanted advances. We must dedicate far more resources to preventing these events before they happen, and giving women the tools they need to speak freely and get justice. In Congress, I’ll work to significantly increase federal funding for public defenders, to ensure that women of all incomes have the ability to bring their abusers to a court of law. Women who face abuse and discrimination should never have to settle for anything less than full legal justice.
And sadly, the United States remains one of the few developed counties that does not guarantee paid maternity leave for all mothers. I support new legislation to require employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, at least 15 days of paid vacation, and at least 7 days of paid sick leave. I also believe the US government should provide tax and other incentives to ease the financial cost to employers.
Equality for the LGBT Community
While the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government and all states must recognize same-sex marriages, there is still no federal law granting protections to the LGBT community. While the LGBT community has made huge strides in the past decade, they still face regular abuse and discrimination in the workplace and in public.
The rights to privacy and equality are both key elements of our Constitution and bill of rights, and I believe the government should not intervene in the private lives of its citizens, except to ensure equal treatment under the law. Accordingly, we are in serious need of a new federal law that explicitly bans discrimination based on gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation in hiring/employment, public accommodations, interstate commerce, banking, career advancement, compensation, and housing, among others.
During parts of the 20th century, the US led the world in promoting equal and human rights, both domestically and internationally. That legacy must continue into the 21st century as well.
Voting and Elections
Protecting Access to the Ballotbox
In the shameful days of open segregation, literacy laws and poll taxes were used to suppress minority voting. Today, actions like racial gerrymandering of Congressional districts, restriction of same-day registration and early voting, and aggressive purging of voter rolls are having similar effects especially on the minority voter turnout.
11% of eligible voters currently don’t have a photo ID- and most these voters are black and Latino. In 2012, African-Americans waited twice as long to vote, and voters in some minority precincts waited several hours to cast a ballot. Meanwhile, 13% of African-American men have lost the right to vote due to felony convictions.
To make matters worse, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that states no longer need to gain federal pre-clearance before implementing discriminatory voting laws. This horrible ruling struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act- a stunningly ignorant decision which has left a permanent stain on the Supreme Court’s reputation.
The state of ballot access and poor turnout is completely embarrassing, and is a deep insult to our Constitutional democracy and to those who have fought and died defending it.
In Congress, I’ll support measures to:
- Reaffirm and restore the “pre-clearance” formula under the Voting Rights Act, which protects voters in areas with historic discrimination and electoral dysfunction
- Make Election day a federal holiday so every citizen can easily get a chance to vote
- Federally require early voting options for voters who work, study, or need the flexibility to vote on evenings or weekends
- Create incentives for all the 50 states to move towards nonpartisan apportionment of congressional districts
- Automatically register every American to vote when they turn 18, or move to a new state. Cities, counties, and motor vehicle departments already have the information to do this. The burden of registering voters should be on the state, not the individual voter
- Expand federal funding for polling places and streamline requirements for voting machines to prevent errors and election-day shenanigans