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Points Toward the Presidency: Mitt Romney

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Editor’s Note: In this, the penultimate installment of our series of profiles of the Republican presidential candidates, guest blogger Kelsey Harclerode examines the policy stances of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and finds them–like the rest of his candidacy–completely unsurprising and largely uninspiring.

Mitt Romney: a Man and his Vision

Willard Mitt Romney: the Republican candidate you hate to love. As our friends at Stop the Drug War have pointed out, Romney has done his best to avoid establishing a clear drug policy. But despite his best efforts, a review of his actions as the Governor of Massachusetts and his statements on the 2008 and 2012 campaign trail have established one for him—which might best be summed up by the chorus of En Vogue’s hit “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It).” As in, “never gonna get” legal medical marijuana, “never gonna get” a true end to the drug war, and—as so often seems the case for Romney—“never gonna get” a distinctive or ideologically coherent overall policy.

Like the majority of the Republicans in the race, Romney supports the drug war…at least most of the time. During his time as the Governor of Massachusetts, he had a generally “tough on drug crime” stance: in 2004 he supported a crackdown on drunk drivers that aimed to bring Massachusetts’ notoriously lax penalties into line with federal norms. In 2005, his administration introduced legislation that would increase the penalties and fines for those charged with possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamines. And Romney proposed legislation that would provide funding for school districts that drug tested their students (though there is little evidence that many districts took him up on this offer).

His positions on the international dimensions of the war on drugs are a little less clear.

Sometimes a Cigar is a Weapon of Mass Destruction

In 2007, Romney strongly supported American funding to Colombia to prevent “narco-terrorism” and keep “deadly drugs off our streets.” His current campaign website follows in the same vein: a 2011 speech alludes to the ways our promising relationship with Mexico will “strengthen our cooperation on our shared problems of drugs and security.” Similarly, a January 2012 press release posits that the “anti-American Bolivarian movement” led by the Castros and Hugo Chavez presents a “national security threat…in the form of an enhanced drug-terror nexus.”

However, in 2008 video, Romney criticized the “disappointing” war on drugs because it allowed for endless international spending, but only limited success. (Interestingly, it is unclear in this video if his examples of Colombia and Afghanistan are examples of the former or the latter.) He goes on to claim that our money would be better spent attempting to prevent American children from becoming users. On the one hand, this sounds like a progressive, harm-reductionist stance. And in New Hampshire last fall, Romney did tell a group of supporters that a key weapon in the continuing war on drugs was education about the dangers of drug abuse. But he absolved the state of any responsibility for education or outreach, arguing bizarrely that the war on drugs was not really a matter for the state to prosecute, but for the family, and asserting that the centerpiece of parents’ anti-drug argument should be…economic competitiveness. According to the Concord Monitor, Romney urged parents to remind their children that “if you don’t get an education and you start pursuing a lifestyle with drugs and alcohol abuse, you’re not going to be able to have the kind of life you’d like to have,” because Americans who don’t get an education will have to compete with people around the world who are willing to work for 50 cents an hour.

Child Labor: the Anti-Drug

One issue upon which Romney has been consistent is the legalization of medical marijuana. The few times that he has discussed the issue, he has remained adamantly opposed to legalization. In 2007, he addressed a group of New Hampshire voters and explained that he opposed legalizing medical marijuana because pot “is the entry drug of people trying to get kids hooked on drugs.” Additionally, he acknowledged that sick people might need medical marijuana, but asserted that synthetic substitutes would work just fine. This basic position was solidified a couple months later in 2007 when Romney spoke to a group of students and reaffirmed that the national prohibition on recreational and medical marijuana should continue even if a state chooses to legalize the drug. He reiterated his support for alternatives for pain management and his belief that marijuana is a gateway drug that “is one of the great causes of crime in our cities.” In his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, Romney attributes the legalization effort to the “passion and zeal of the members of the pleasure-seeking generation that never grew up…their arguments are elaborate but empty – a great nation has never been built on hedonism.” (Take that, Netherlands!) Overall, his stance on the legalization of medical marijuana is aptly demonstrated in the 2007 video posted on Points a few weeks ago, which shows then Governor Romney walking away from a man dying from muscular dystrophy who has asked him if he will have him arrested for using marijuana, the only drug that helps ease his pain.

In addition to supporting (sort of) the war on drugs and the prohibition of medical marijuana, Romney has also opposed harm reduction programs. As Governor, in July of 2006 Romney vetoed a bill that would allow for the sale of hypodermic needles without a prescription. This law was intended to reduce the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV, but Romney believed that since it would “facilitate illegal drug use” and “send the wrong message to young people,” the bill’s medical aspects should be disregarded. His flimsy reasoning was exposed when the Massachusetts legislators overrode his veto.

This profile concludes with a video of Romney from 2008, chastising Senator John McCain for criticizing the power of Big Pharma and assuring him that the drug companies are not “the bad guys,” but are just “doing the work of the free market.” This attitude may explain why the Center for Responsive Politics ranks Romney third (behind Barack Obama and Orrin Hatch) on its list of top recipients of campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies during the 2011-2012 election cycle.


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