Drug War

Mitch Daniels' Pot Luck

The Indiana governor's escape from prison taught him the importance of being tough on drug users.


Last week Mitch Daniels, Indiana's governor, told The Daily Princetonian that "justice was served" when he was arrested for marijuana possession during his junior year at Princeton. But like many pot smokers who became politicians, Daniels, a potential contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, seems to have two standards of justice: one for him and one for anyone else who does what he did.

Although Daniels was caught with enough marijuana to trigger a prison sentence, he got off with a $350 fine. Yet he has advocated "jail time" for "casual users"—a stark illustration of the schizophrenic attitudes that help perpetuate drug policies widely recognized as unjust.

According to the Princetonian, "officers found enough marijuana in [Daniels'] room to fill two size 12 shoe boxes." Under current New Jersey law, possessing more than 50 grams (about 1.8 ounces) of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Given the amount of pot Daniels had, he easily could have been charged with intent to distribute, which under current law triggers a penalty of three to five years.

At the time of Daniels' arrest in May 1970, New Jersey's marijuana penalties were even more severe. Six months after his arrest, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided a case involving an 18-year-old who received a sentence of two to three years in prison after police found a pot pipe and part of a joint in his house.

Concluding that "the sentence was entirely too harsh," the court ruled that "a suspended sentence with an appropriate term of probation is sufficient penalty for a person who is convicted for the first time of possessing marihuana for his own use." But given the legal situation prior to this ruling, Daniels was very lucky to escape with no more than a fine. This lenient treatment was possible because he did not plead guilty to marijuana possession—only to the lesser offense of "maintaining a common nuisance."

In 1989, when he was president of the Hudson Institute, Daniels recounted his brush with the law in a Washington Post op-ed piece. Amazingly, he did so in support of harsher treatment for "casual users," who he said were getting off too lightly.

"Absent a resumption of enforcement against the casual user," Daniels wrote, "we will neither slash the demand that fuels the drug economy nor will we demonstrate to ourselves the seriousness of purpose inherent to any real 'war.'" He said "the threshold test of seriousness on the drug issue" is a willingness to endorse "user sanctions," including "jail time."

A few years after Daniels called for a crackdown on drug users, the number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. began a steady climb, peaking at 873,000 in 2007, up from 327,000 in 1990. In 2009 there were 858,000 marijuana arrests, of which 87 percent were for possession.

The increase in pot busts has been especially dramatic in New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This is what Bloomberg said in 2001, shortly before he announced his candidacy for mayor, when a reporter asked him whether he had smoked marijuana: "You bet I did, and I enjoyed it."

Bloomberg's honesty was refreshing compared to the evasiveness of Bill Clinton, who said he'd tried pot without inhaling, and George W. Bush, who refused to address the subject. But whatever points Bloomberg earned for candor he lost for the blatant hypocrisy of his continuing anti-pot campaign. Likewise Barack Obama, another self-identified former pot smoker who stopped supporting marijuana decriminalization when he ran for president and now literally laughs at the idea.

To his credit, Daniels today advocates criminal justice reform, including a reconsideration of sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. But if he really believes a fine is the appropriate penalty for someone caught with two shoeboxes of marijuana, he should at least support decriminalizing possession and treating it as a citable offense. Currently in Indiana, the amount of pot Daniels had triggers a sentence of six months to three years.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Good morning reason!

  2. The world cannot abide a politician with presidential aspirations who advocates decriminalization.

      1. Yeah, great articulate position by Palin. Make sure she’s on the side of reformers by saying it should not be a priority but also making sure she’s on the side of the warriors by keeping it illegal. Way to leave it up to the whim of the local cops, prosecutors and temperance movements. I would expect no less from the University of Idaho grad.

        1. College is what you make of it, elitist.

          1. Maybe she should be asked the obvious follow up question when she regurgitates her stupid position. But no, she is used as an example of moderation on drugs even by Napolitano. Well that is just bullshit. Her position is actually the worst possible scenario. At least the true drug warriors stay consistent in their message.

  3. Isn’t that Putin?

  4. So he’s the Ayn Rand of pot smoking 😉

  5. of course because had Mitch not been arrested in 1970 he might not have learned his lesson and not decided to run for president to save us from ourselves.

    phewww…thanks mitch your so right!

  6. Daniels, a potential contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination…

    …has failed H&R’s purity test.


    1. Yeah, so?

    2. Why yes. We here at H&R tend to be just a little distrustful of all politicians. That’s bad because……

      [Yes, I used “we”.]

      1. We are okay with this.

      2. Why yes, we here at H&R think the right to be stoners is the most important right in the world.

        1. Dude! We have our…what’s the word…dude, you know, the word…like, our important stuff, the stuff we think is important…

          Priorities! That’s it. Dude! We have our priorities in order. Salvia divinorum for toddlers! Whooo!

          1. The 70’s called, they said they wanted their stereotypical jokes back.

            1. agreed, very sick of the stereotypes of Pot Smokers. There are so many functional pot smokers its ridiculous but D-bags love to go to the Cheech and Chong stereotype.

    3. sniff, sniiiiffff….
      smells like Princetonian Elite-ism…
      (squinting eyes), your presidential mouthwash ain’t makin’ it.

  7. I really do not understand the constant focus on drugs in the libertarian movement. Drug legalization inevitably follows from a rational understanding of economics.

    However, it is more than bizarre to claim to be pro-reason and and then hold up mind-destroying chemicals as a rallying cry for freedom.

    Why not argue for freedom from a positive rather than negative perspective? Hold up man’s good qualities, and emphasize how freedom will benefit and promote them.

    1. Then boy scout you really don’t understand that most libertarians are intimately aware of drug enforcement, and the judicial system

    2. mind-destroying?

    3. Why not argue for freedom from a positive rather than negative perspective?

      Because it is far easier to destroy than to create?

    4. However, it is more than bizarre to claim to be pro-reason and and then hold up mind-destroying chemicals as a rallying cry for freedom.

      Isn’t 1 out of every 4 prisoners in federal lockup a nonviolent drug offender? And don’t we have the highest incarceration rate in the world? If anything, the war on drugs is a pretty obvious place to make a stand.

      1. Amakudari, I’m doing an article on why Libertarians will never be taken seriously because they suck the teet of any gubment money. As the winner of the Ayn Rand Do What I Say Bitch, Not As I Do award you would make a great profile!

        1. So, as a business owner, and a libertarian, should I not lobby the local politicians for the same government favoritism that my competitors get?

          1. Yes you should because all the competitors have access , and legitimately a business serves a purpose for the greater good of the community.

            What is not an effective use of tax dollars is scholarship money in the name of a KKK prick that is used for a single person and will only benefit his ass.

            1. Yes you should because all the competitors have access , and legitimately a business serves a purpose for the greater good of the community to make a profit.

              What is not an effective use of tax dollars is scholarship money in the name of a KKK prick government that is used for a single person parasites and will only benefit his ass politicians.

              1. Yes you should because all the competitors have access , and legitimately a business serves a purpose for the greater good of the community to make a profit [serves its community by providing a quality product or service, at a reasonable cost].

                1. Yes you should because all the competitors have access , and legitimately a business serves a purpose for the greater good of the community to make a profit [serves its community clients by providing a quality product or service, at a reasonable cost profit].

                  1. How’s that OCD thing working out for you?

                  2. Clients and employees are the community, and profit is the decision of the business owner. One does not need to make a profit to be a business. (Not that I necessarily recommend that.)
                    By serving the needs of clients, and making a profit, and hiring employees, a business serves the community, in general. The motives, in this case, are irrelevant. The fact remains that a successful business serves the overall community.

                    1. The debate really was over the use of government funds for private education-is that considered libertarian?

        2. rather, I’m doing an article on why you will never be taken seriously because you are a Down’s Syndrome mongoloid. As the winner of the Trig Palin My Extra Chromosome Retards My Cognitive Development award you would make a great profile!

          1. HM, I know why your immigrant wife can’t stand the US and it isn’t us but you

            1. It took you ten minutes to think of that?

              For what it’s worth, I never said my wife “can’t stand the US”. That comes from John’s fantasy land cum poor reading comprehension skills.

              What I said was that the only reason my wife chose to immigrate here was because we were married. If I had opted for permanent residency in her country, she would have just as happy.

              Now, for once, please let us adults have a conversation with out your incoherent ramblings.

              1. I never said my wife and you never said she didn’t-I know she would miss her family, and thinks about living in her native country

        3. How does one get from the topic of too many prisoners to pointing fingers at rent seeking business ? You are one of the most incoherent prattlers I have ever come across.

            1. Nope still complete and utter incoherence, equating using browser software to accepting money from government is about as logical as comparing French truffles to Martian rock formations, probably makes perfect sense in your looney bin world though.

              1. well, fuck off then into your world of limited comprehension and excessive rudeness.

        4. Of course, I can’t show you where Rand says that taking money from the government when the government has taken money from you is wrong. That would necessitate me knowing what the fuck I’m talking about.

          1. I love that justification; it is so libertarian

      2. 40% in the State of Pennsylvania. I think NJ is about 32%.

      3. careful Vinny, you just touched the “third rail” in Libertarian Land…

    5. Why not argue for freedom from a positive rather than negative perspective?

      I am positive you have the freedom to not use drugs.

      Now please excuse me while I destroy my mind with caffeine.

    6. However, it is more than bizarre to claim to be pro-reason

      That’s a DRIIIIIIIIINK!!

      I don’t care how early it is.

    7. Watch this Vinny, it’s on Reason h&r right now.

    8. I really do not understand the constant focus on drugs in the libertarian movement

      In short because drug prohibition fills our prisons, destroys lives (with permanent criminal records), wastes untold billions, enriches violent criminals, destroys civil liberties, and creates war zones out of poorer countries (like Mexico). Drug prohibition is, without exaggeration, a great evil.

      1. Not to mention, it gets everyone a little more comfortable with the idea of cops busting down your door and shooting you cuz they saw a snickers bar in your hand and snickers bars look kind of like guns and then realizing they got the address wrong.

    9. Wow, did you miss this one. It’s not the mind destroying chemicals themselves that are the rallying cry for freedom. It’s the freedom of the individual to take said chemicals in the privacy of his own home (or a friend’s house, or while camping, at a nice cafe, whatever) which does nothing to agrees against the freedoms of others and not be thrown in jail, shot by the cops, or otherwise have thief lives ruined just because it makes someone somewhere uneasy that is the rallying cry for freedom.

      1. Goddamn autocorrect and stubby fingers.

        1. Chronic marihuana abuse is known to cause stout digits.

          1. Do you mean frequent use over a long period of time?

            Or use of marijuana when it’s the chronic?

        2. That’s not why they call you stubby!

    10. IMO, the emphasis has to do with the fact that they seem unnecessary and more likely to actually happen. Heck, MJ had a fair chance of legalization in the Carter administration. When was the last time the bulk of federal spending was danger of being reduced to libertarian levels? (ignoring campaign opponent’s hyperbole)

    11. “Good wine is a necessity of life for me.”

      ~ Thomas Jefferson

    12. Vinny, Vinny, Vinny it sounds like you are saying being a stoner is a negative….that just can not be. Everybody I know is a positive stoner.

    13. Generally, I’m opposed to doors being kicked down by thugs. The war on drugs accounts for a good portion of such instances, without a corresponding benefit.

    14. Yeah THC is a real mind destroying chemical, but those pesky anti-prohibitionists sure were on the right track with their wonderful miracle elixir.

      The marijuana issue is just a bullet point, not the banner they unite under.

      1. anon-bot, I will so fuck with you when I get the chance. Good luck with your protection software.

        1. Here’s your “chance”


  8. Politicians and hypocrisy: Hand-in-hand since the beginning of time.

  9. My, how times have changed in NJ.


    1. Too much good news.

      Grab yer steel-plated cup.

      Friday approaches, and Balko looms.

    2. “Barnes says officials agreed to dismiss the case because the cards have not been issued a year later.” and face it, he threw up on Dean Wormer.

  10. What’s this, the 50th article on this jagoff’s hypocrisy? Shocker – a politician who’s a hypocrite on teh drugz.

    If you’re going to beat something to death, please pick something else. I want my mosque articles back!!

    1. They stole yer Four Loko!

  11. Also, Vinny….I’m sooooooo wasted!!!!!


    1. Ya, me too, that’s why I hang here everybody’s wasted.

  12. This article is absolutely pointless. To be honest, it sounds like some NYTimes columnist wrote it, because it is completely bias and ignores a lot of key facts about the incident.

    Mitch Daniels received a $350 fine, but the article does not mention anything about his other roommates. After all, it was them who were ultimately responsible for the drugs in the place. But no worries… I am sure that’s a little detail that is pointless to add to a story like this.

    Politico (http://goo.gl/eafME):

    “According to campus newspaper reports supplied by the university, Daniels and TWO OTHER STUDENTS were swept up in a five-month joint investigation between New Jersey state police and local police that culminated in the May 14th, 1970 raid on Daniels’ shared room at111 Cuyler Hall.


    Daniels was never implicated in selling the drugs, and has never hidden the incident. During his 2004 run for governor, a former roommate told the Indianapolis Star that Daniels “had nothing to do” with selling drugs, saying “I was busted.” The roommate went on to say he was no fan of then-President Bush and would have gladly offered unflattering information about a GOP candidate if he’d had it.”

    There you have it…

    Any readers of this article should just laugh it off and go research the incident on their own, because Jacob Sullum did not.

    1. Daniels is not pure! He must be purged!

      1. Nobody is advocating that Daniels be purged from the Republican party, in fact he seems to be carrying on the fine tradition of hypocritical meddling the GOP is known for.

        Do you have a specific concern, or are you just here to troll?

        1. Nobody is advocating that Daniels be purged from the Republican party

          Libertarians have that power?

          Please, please use it on that statist douche Romney.

          1. Romney is bad, but I would like to see him nominated just for the hilarity that would inevitably ensue. Of course it would be horrible for the country, but who could win that wouldn’t be?

            America seems doomed anyways, I’m just sticking around for the jokes.

            Could you imagine the butthurt republicans posting under names like “Anarchist 1.0” bitching about Mitt not making our purity test.

            Daniels Romney is not pure! He must be purged!

            1. “America seems doomed anyways, I’m just sticking around for the jokes.”

    2. Mac, you do realize that under the laws that Daniels pushes for, and agrees with, he would have been sent to prison for many years regardless of his involvement. If he would come out and say that his life would have been better and society would have been better served had he spent 5 years in prison then it wouldn’t be such a big deal. For him a fine is fine for others not so much

      Freedom for me, but not for thee.

      Also, you didn’t mention what happened to his roommates regarding the charges.

    3. Oh wow, good point, guy. That totally means that the drug war is good for society, Daniels isn’t a hypocrite since that pot found in his room that one time definitely wasn’t his, and people deserve to go to jail for nonviolent, private choices. Thanks for setting us straight!

  13. Whew, glad I saw this. I was worried Daniels wasn’t a typical drug war hypocrite for a while there.

  14. Just like Obama, right right right, daddio?! (rimshot)

  15. Add Mitch Daniels to the list of hypocritical ex-dopers, in this case ex-small time dealer,* who think that those who do they exact same things they’ve done deserve far harsher punishments than they did.

    Fuck that asshole.

    * … “officers found enough marijuana in [Daniels’] room to fill two size 12 shoe boxes.” That’s about 1.5 lbs, he was ounceing out pounds/kilos and smoking for free. Not a big deal, I did it in the ’70s myself. But I certainly don’t think people who do it today deserve felony convictions or prison time. But then, I’m not a fucking hypocritical asshole who thinks his own shit don’t stink.

    Really, fuck that asshole.

    1. Come J sub D, Princeton ain’t cheap 😉

  16. Hey, man another stoner special.

  17. If any other prosecutor has accepted the “That’s not mine” defense that Daniels managed to skate on, I would love to know about it.

    1. Intriguing question; I want to write about it. This defendant used “That’s not mine” but they dismissed before trial


  18. Typical hypocrisy from a useless politician.Just like Spitzer using whores at the same time he was going after prostitution rings when he was Attorney General.

  19. I had a friend that smoked in high school and college. She says it should be illegal and that she should be in jail right now for using it… oy vey. -_-

    1. I have some friends like that too, I always think that they would definitely be singing a different tune if they actually did the time.

  20. The drug Daniels indulged in causes marked irrationality, mood swings, inability to focus and often violence. The drug being of course, power.

  21. No, Daniels was lucky he was a white kid arrested for pot in 1970. I looked up that other case: sure enough, the kid was black.

  22. I knew who Obama was-I read his books. But I figured if he legalized pot it would be worth anything he could do to the USA. Maybe Mitch will.

  23. It seems that being a hypocritical piece of shit is a prerequisite for a successful career in politics.

  24. Whoa…since when did you guys start doing game commentary?

  25. There is an old saying: “If the rich could hire people to die for them, the poor could make a nice living.” Well, the rich still can’t do that but they can hire black and brown people to serve long prison sentences so they can buy their recreational drugs. Mitch Daniels thinks that policy is just fine.

  26. Prison is for the poor

  27. Yet another political hack who, because he is part of the ruling elite, thinks that he is entitled to be shielded from the laws that the rest of us live under…

    Actually, there are several more members of the oligarchy listed here who have no problem in betraying their values for political power.

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