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Where do the GOP Candidates Stand on Drug Policy? Why Now is the Time to Know

The battle for the Republican nomination has moved to Florida, which also happens to be a key battleground in an entirely different fight: the $15bn war on drugs.

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"It's a remarkably invasive and ugly policy," he argued, adding that, "There's lots of evidence that it's ineffective and costly."

Nadlemann called Gingrich "basically a nightmare" when it comes to issues of drug policy.

"For a guy who's supposed to be an intellectual and intelligent, the quality of the argumentation on his part is embarrassing".

Mitt Romney

While Mitt Romney has been less vocal in his views on drug policy, his record as governor of Massachusetts and his interaction with potential voters suggests a deep reluctance to reform.

In one  2007 video a medical marijuana user asks if the former Massachusetts governor would have him arrested for his choice of medication. After saying that he is opposed to medical marijuana, Romney turns his back on the wheelchair-bound young man, leaving his question unanswered.

"Even apart from the medical marijuana," Nadlemann says, "he has been just terrible on this issue."

Nadlemann refers back to 2006, when then-governor Romney vetoed a bill allowing pharmacies to provide individuals clean hypodermic needles without a prescription. The measure would have cost the state nothing, and health experts argued it would help curb the spread of infectious disease. In addition, proponents noted, it would have saved funds otherwise spent on emergency medical care.

Romney argued the program would have "unintended consequences" and encourage the use of heroin. The Massachusetts legislature ultimately overturned Romney's veto, joining 47 other states that allow access to clean needles.

Rick Santorum

Like Romney, Rick Santorum has been relatively quiet on the issue of drug policy. Also like Romney, a videotaped encounter has provided insight into what the former Pennsylvania senator knows – or chooses to ignore – about drug policy.

Earlier this month Santorum was confronted by a member of the group Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The candidate, who has framed himself as a champion of family values, was asked whether he would continue to send non-violent drug offenders to prison as president, a punishment that routinely tears families apart.

Santorum responded, "Wow … the federal government doesn't do that."

In fact, drug offenders make up nearly half of the federal prison population, almost 100,000 people. According to the US department of justice, in 2009 the most serious crime committed by over 95,000 prisoners was a drug charge.

In a second video posted by the group this year, Santorum cops to being uninformed. When asked about states' rights and the federal government's role in enforcing medical marijuana laws, the presidential hopeful says, "I don't know my medical marijuana laws very well." He then goes on to say, "they are a hazardous thing for society."

Ron Paul

An ardent libertarian, Ron Paul stands apart from his competitors. Paul has explicitly called for an end to the war on drugs, arguing the effort amounts to a colossal waste of money. He did not mince words speaking during a November presidential debate when  he said flatly, "I think the federal war on drugs is a total failure."

Paul points to the disproportionate impact drug laws have had on communities of color resulting in the ballooning prison population. Running for president in 1988, he made a stop at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. It was the same period in which a series of racist newsletters bearing his name were being circulated. Still, the congressman from Texas  noted discrepancies in the persecution of ethnic groups based on the substances they were believed to enjoy.

Paul pointed out that while ethnic groups were persecuted for their association with certain substances, the abuse of alcohol, which he argued was the preferred intoxicant of congressmen, was not used as pretext for targeting people.