Donald Trump Shows How Drugs Are Used as Weapons in Politics

September 27th 2016

You probably noticed that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sniffled throughout the first presidential debate on Monday.

Which Twitter users, including former Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean, speculated that the Republican nominee was suffering from what's colloquially known as "coke nose."

He wasn't alone, either. This meme got some traction on Twitter following the debate as well.

The jokes were mostly just that: jokes. However, casting Trump as a cocaine user is just the latest example of how allegations of drug use are weaponized in politics.

donald-trumpAP/Patrick Semansky - apimages.comThe memes and tweets probably aren't meant to be taken seriously, but they speak to a serious problem nonetheless. In the U.S., negative views of drug users have informed punitive drug policies that emphasize punishment over treatment. And while surveys show that the public largely views addiction as a disease deserving of treatment, drug use has often been exploited as a political liability by Democrats and Republicans alike.

drugPew Research Center - people-press.org

In 2007, for example, a top adviser campaigning for Hillary Clinton — then a presidential candidate running against current President Barack Obama — said that her opponent's open admission of past drug use was a vulnerability that Republicans might exploit, The Associated Press reported. (Obama has published books describing his use of marijuana and cocaine during his youth.)

"It’ll be, ‘When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?" Bill Shaheen, who served as a national co-chairman for Clinton’s campaign, reportedly told The Washington Post. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It’s hard to overcome."

Clinton's campaign condemned the statement and Shaheen later apologized and resigned, but Obama has continually been attacked by critics over the drug issue. It's part of a long-standing tradition of drug shaming in politics, where admitting to doing something such as smoking cannabis — which about half of Americans have tried, according to a 2015 Pew poll — puts lawmakers at risk of being attacked.

marijuana-jointFlickr/Martin Alonso - flic.kr

Just ask Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, who has endured his fair share of criticism over his marijuana use. After his Aleppo faux pas earlier this month, Johnson critics tried to pin his memory lapse on pot. (Johnson said he has ceased cannabis use during his presidential campaign, for the record.)

The attempt to stigmatize drug use exists everywhere, but in politics is seems especially pronounced.

Attributing Trump and Johnson’s performances on the campaign trail or in debates to drug use is problematic — not just because they’re likely inaccurate associations but also because it perpetuates negative stereotypes about drug users. And stereotypes about drug users do not serve the reform agenda that many Americans are pushing for, including marijuana legalization.

RELATED: Where Your Representatives Stand on Marijuana

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