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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

VIEW FROM AMERICA: McCain Would Jail All Junkies ... but His Wife




Much has been made of allegations of possible youthful use of illegal drugs by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.


Meanwhile, his chief Republican Party opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain, has admitted that his wife not only illegally used drugs but walked away from criminal charges. The McCains have worked to make Cindy McCain's addiction into a political asset - despite the fact that she stole the drugs from a charity she directed and used them while mothering four young children.


In 1994, Mrs. McCain admitted she had solicited prescriptions for painkillers from physicians who worked for a charity she founded, the American Voluntary Medical Team. She then filled the prescriptions in the names of her staff.


There are two ways to react to this behavior. According to the Betty Ford model, people can sympathetically respond to the ignored wife of a busy politician who has come forward to admit her problem. Mrs. McCain took this posture when confessing her addiction and then in October on the NBC program "Dateline."


The other possible public reaction is one of anger. Americans are prosecuted every day for such drug use. While most users purchase their drugs from street dealers, Mrs. McCain used her status to cajole them.


Mrs. McCain was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency was approached by a former staff member of her charity. The investigation resulted in no charges, but she confessed to her drug use when she learned a reporter was investigating the story.


Is Mrs. McCain to be judged as a victim or a criminal? This debate is at the heart of the discussion of American drug policy. Should we deal with drug users as victims or criminals?


Should she not be held at least as accountable for her actions as an uneducated inner-city drug user? After all, she could enter drug treatment at any time she chose, unlike many drug users who find themselves in prison.


Moreover, Mrs. McCain was violating a position of trust by stealing from a charitable organization, using its money and expertise to fuel her drug use. Isn't this more reprehensible than purchasing drugs illegally?


John McCain is a hawk in the drug war. He advocates stricter drug laws, penalties and enforcement against drug sellers. But he also supports family values. Yet if the McCains were not well-off and influential, they might not have a family at all. McCain's lack of concern for street drug users contrasts sharply with the support his wife received. It's the old American double standard. For "straight-shooter" McCain, charity begins at home - and ends there.


Stanton Peele is a New Jersey psychologist and attorney and a senior fellow of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy think tank. He contributed this to the Los Angeles Times.