Reforming Rush Limbaugh

Sure, it would be nice to give Limbaugh a taste of his own medicine, but nobody deserves to serve time for a nonviolent drug offense.
Whether you love him or hate him, whether or not you want him to go to jail, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has become a national symbol for drug addiction. Limbaugh's recent clash with the law reminds us that drug addiction does not discriminate. Unfortunately, our drug policies do.

Limbaugh was investigated for illegally obtaining thousands of addictive prescription painkillers. Criminal charges were dropped against him in Florida when he worked out a plea agreement that included a $30,000 penalty and continued drug treatment.

Rush Limbaugh's noxious lack of sympathy for others in similar predicaments -- he has often demonized drug offenders to his national audience of "dittoheads" -- tests one's commitment to the idea of nonincarceration, compassion and treatment for all nonviolent drug offenders. Many who normally support treatment instead of incarceration would love to see Limbaugh locked up and getting a taste of his own medicine.

Less than two weeks ago, Limbaugh weighed in on the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) announcement that there were no "sound scientific studies" supporting the medicinal use of marijuana. His diatribe was characteristically callous and harsh toward sick and dying people who use medical marijuana. Limbaugh blathered, "The FDA says there's no -- zilch, zero, nada -- shred of medicinal value to the evil weed, marijuana. This is going to be a setback to the long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking crowd."

This disdain for medical marijuana patients is not the first time Limbaugh has shown a lack of compassion to people who use drugs or suffer from addiction. Rush Limbaugh is the man who scoffed at the idea that African-Americans are disproportionately arrested on drug charges -- he suggested that the solution was to arrest more white people. Interestingly enough, Limbaugh sang a different tune when he was the white person who could have easily ended up behind bars, were he not a famous radio personality.

This point is very close to my heart; because of an addiction, I was previously sentenced to 15 years to life for a nonviolent drug offense. Even though Limbaugh said people like me deserve to be behind bars, I am willing to turn the other cheek and advocate treatment for him, instead of the jail cell that I was given. Some might argue that there is a difference between the use of prescription drugs and illegal drugs. But, as Limbaugh's case underscores, addiction does not discriminate between legal and illegal substances.

Limbaugh contends that his addiction was a byproduct of taking painkillers for chronic pain from a back injury. Many people with diseases ranging from back pain to cancer use marijuana to treat pain, nausea, glaucoma and various other symptoms associated with their conditions. Instead of pot, Limbaugh chose painkillers to treat his ailments. What's the difference? One drug is demonized, while the other is not.

One can only hope Rush Limbaugh's experiences with addiction and the drug war will encourage him to join the movement to reform drug policy. Limbaugh has an enormous platform and reach. If he decided to take up the cause of treatment instead of incarceration for drug users, he could help change laws across the country. After all, if treatment instead of jail is good enough for him as he struggles with his addiction, surely it is good enough for thousands of others just like him who struggle with their substance abuse every day.
Anthony Papa, author of 15 To Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom, is a communications specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance.
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