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Points Toward the Presidency: Rick Santorum

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Editor’s Note: As we mentioned in our recent valediction for Jon Huntsman, this week sees the beginning of a timely new series at Points, where we map the republican presidential candidates’ stances on a range of drug and alcohol issues. A new and zealous staffer is dedicating herself to bringing Points readers profiles of all the remaining candidates before the Florida primaries: she is Kelsey Harclerode, a 3rd-year University of Florida double major in Political Science and Women’s Studies. Depending on how closely you’ve followed the primaries thus far– or how much you believe that party affiliation determines policy positions– you may not learn a lot that’s new. But you’ll now have a go-to source for all the details on topics ranging from access to medical marijuana to mandatory minimum sentences. Plus, our unique “Points Inhale-Scale” will position each candidate relative to Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” and Barack Obama’s “Of course I inhaled– that was the point.” Our series starts off with a look at that paragon of values conservatism, Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum.

Santorum, Santorum, Santorum. Do not Google his name. (Trust me.) Instead, what you should Google is his approach to drug policy because that is truly an interesting read. Known for his staunch Catholicism and Evangelical Christian base, Santorum is probably one of the most dependable candidates running in the Republican primary. Whether he’s dependably good, bad, or somewhere in between is up for you to decide– we hope the points below will help you with that determination.

First and foremost, although he admits to having smoked pot himself in college, Santorum is wholeheartedly against drugs of any sort and he has consistently framed his drug policy stances as moral positions. This theme has followed him from his days as a Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives (1990-95), to the U.S. Senate (1995-2007), and ultimately into his campaign for President. Throughout the past two decades, he has stood strong as an ardent drug warrior. Let’s review his scrappy anti-drug tactics.

Santorum Re-mixes Hilary Clinton


In 1996, during his tenure as a U.S. Senator, Santorum voted in favor of HR 3540, which allocated an additional $53 million to ongoing War on Drugs support to anti-narcotics activities in countries within Latin America and the Caribbean. Three years later he supported the Hatch Amendment within S. 625, which increased penalties for certain drug-related crimes involving amphetamines, methamphetamine, and powder cocaine. In a 1996 speech included in his book, A Senator Speaks Out on Life, Freedom, and Responsibility, Santorum made the bold claim that the perpetuation of the welfare state has led to a higher rates of drug use and abuse in impoverished areas. Ten years later, Santorum wrote It Takes A Family, which claimed that the presence of a married mother and father reduced a child’s propensity to use alcohol and drugs.

Concerning the legalization of marijuana, Santorum has released multiple statements throughout his political tenure outlining his strong beliefs. In 1998, two separate letters to constituents made clear his opposition to marijuana and his belief that the war on drugs is working to deter the populace from using illegal substances, such as marijuana. In one of these he writes, “I am adamantly opposed to the legalization of marijuana and other illegal narcotics…I believe that this would lead to increased drug use, especially among young people.” (So…while the illegality of marijuana didn’t stop him from being one of those rebellious youngsters, it will stop others, no doubt!)

Santorum's Defeat Left a Big Hole


But if Santorum is a foe to “marijuana and other illegal narcotics,” he’s a friend—a good friend—to other drugs; he is known for his unusually close connection to Big Pharma. When he voted for Medicare Part D in 2003, many of his supporters wondered why a staunch economic conservative would support a prescription drug plan that helped cripple the American economy and was widely seen as tool of the pharmaceutical companies. The explanation appeared in an internal memo leaked from GlaxoSmithKline in the wake of Santorum’s 2006 senatorial defeat. There, the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical company referred to the “big hole that we need to fill” now that their man had left Washington.

Santorum’s conservative policy stances have been further cemented during his campaign for the American presidency. During this primary season, he has consistently insisted that no one else in America–including those under a physician’s care– should indulge in the same drug use that he enjoyed (but of course regrets) as a college student. Behind this stance lies his somewhat unclear claim that the use (and potential legalization) of marijuana goes against “American values.” But if on the one hand Santorum supports the exercise of federal power to allow a prohibition on marijuana, he’s a states-rights man when it comes to how we decide other drug-related issues, such as mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients. That question, he recently stated in a radio interview, should be entirely up to the states to decide.

His contradictory position on federal vs. state power was questioned recently by a group of college students in New Hampshire, and Santorum was left tongue-tied: he referred to marijuana as a narcotic and then attempted to justify himself by saying that his personal experiences taught him right from wrong. Following this awkward misstep, he continued to stumble when another group of pushy students asked him about alternatives to sending non-violent drug offenders to prison. Defying factual evidence, he responded by arguing that the federal government does not send non-violent drug offenders to prison. Hopefully, Santorum will brush up on national drug laws as he moves on through the primary season.


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