Hero or Big Fat Idiot, Rush Limbaugh Should Not Face Prison

Rush Limbaugh is a hero to some and a big fat idiot to others. But when it comes to his criminal investigation for allegedly buying thousands of prescription painkillers, his politics are irrelevant. As long as no one else was harmed as a consequence of his drug use, Rush Limbaugh should not face incarceration or otherwise be punished for what he chose to put into his own body. Neither should any other American, regardless of class, age or race.

Limbaugh is not the first well-known Floridian to land in hot water over prescription drug abuse. Governor Jeb Bush's daughter, Noelle, was arrested in 2002 for trying to buy Xanax with a fraudulent prescription. At the time, the Drug Policy Alliance called for respect and privacy for the Bush family, but also pointed out the sharp discrepancy in Florida's treatment of drug abuse among people with less political power and financial means. For the past ten years more inmates have been admitted to Florida state prisons for drug offenses than for any other offense.

The sad cases of Noelle Bush -- and now Rush Limbaugh -- remind us that substance abuse problems do not discriminate. Unfortunately, thanks to Jeb Bush, Florida's drug policies still do.

Despite this personal encounter with drug abuse in the family and repeated calls for reform, Gov. Bush has cut drug treatment and drug court budgets in the state. He also staunchly opposed a possible ballot initiative which would have diverted nonviolent drug offenders away from prison. Treat others as you would want your own son or daughter treated, we said. It's a good principle in life, and a sound basis for drug policy. Gov. Bush didn't listen.

It is unclear where Mr. Limbaugh stands on drug policy. In 1995 he told listeners, "there's nothing good about drug use. We know it. It destroys individuals. It destroys families. Drug use destroys societies. Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country.... And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up." Mr. Limbaugh went on to deny that African Americans are over-incarcerated compared to whites as a result of the war on drugs. The answer to any such disparity, he said, was to catch more white drug users, "convict them and send them up the river, too."

In 1998, Mr. Limbaugh had a dramatically different message. "What is missing in the drug fight," he told a call-in listener, "is legalization. If we want to go after drugs with the same fervor and intensity with which we go after cigarettes, let's legalize drugs. Legalize the manufacture of drugs. License the Cali cartel."

Sarcasm? Perhaps, but I hope not. I hope, in fact, that this experience further opens Mr. Limbaugh's eyes to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders behind bars in this country. I would be happy to welcome him to the growing national movement for drug policy reform. We need all the help we can get.

But first and foremost, I hope Mr. Limbaugh's life isn't destroyed by unjust, unscientific and uncompassionate drug laws. No one deserves that, friend or foe.

Matthew Briggs is the director of publications at the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs, based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

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