Florida Congressman Trey Radel, who has wisely determined that he does not want to become an American version of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, says he will take a leave of absence from the US House of Representatives to address his penchant for cocaine.
“I’m struggling with this disease, but I know that I can overcome it,” explains the conservative Republican.
Fair enough. The congressman wants to finally deal with an addiction problem he says he’s struggled with “on and off for years.” And there is every reason to wish him well as he does so.
But it would be good for Radel and his colleagues to note that he has identified his challenge as a disease, not a bad habit.
That’s a very different line than was taken by the House Republicans Caucus (of which Radel has been an enthusiastic member) when the chamber this year gave voice-vote approval to an amendment that allows states to require drug-testing of food stamp recipients. Why would they seek to penalize victims of what the congressman says is a disease? Why would they go after the neediest Americans in what Congressman Jim McGovern—the House’s most ardent advocate for nutrition programs—with a “degrading and mean-spirited” approach?
Why, in general, is there a rush to penalize Americans who are in need far more aggressively than Radel, a former television reporter who was elected to Congress last year with the backing of Tea Party groups that have made it a priority to promote crackdowns on recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Radel’s penalty for an admitted purchase of cocaine from an undercover agent will be a year of supervised probation.
He will not lose his job, or the benefits that will allow him to overcome his disease. He even suggests that he wants to “continue to serve.”
Radel seems to be safe from the worst ravages of the drug war. He's getting a chance to "overcome" his problems.
But Americans who are not members of Congress continue to be harmed. Shouldn't they get the same chance that Radel has gotten?
§ The number of people behind bars for drug law violations rose from 50,000 in 1980 to more than a half of a million today—an 1100-percent increase.
§ Drug arrests have more than tripled in the last 25 years, totaling more than 1.63 million arrests in 2010. More than four out of five of these arrests were for mere possession, and forty-six percent of these arrests (750,591) were for marijuana possession alone.