I feel nothing but sympathy and concern for Noelle Bush. Her latest stumble on the rocky road to recovery -- being caught with crack cocaine at a drug rehab center -- shows that she is in desperate need of help. As a parent, I can also easily empathize with the anguish Noelle's father, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, must be experiencing. And I'm in total agreement with his insistence that his daughter's substance-abuse problem is "a private issue."
But when I think about the heartless stance the governor has taken toward the drug problems of those less fortunate and well connected than his daughter, my empathy turns to outrage.
While Noelle has been given every break in the book -- and then some -- her father has made it harder for others in her position to get the help they need by cutting the budgets of drug treatment and drug court programs in his state. He has also actively opposed a proposed ballot initiative that would send an estimated 10,000 nonviolent drug offenders into treatment instead of jail. I guess what's good for the goose gets the gander locked away.
Of course, Jeb's wildly inconsistent attitude on the issue -- treatment and privacy for his daughter, incarceration and public humiliation for everyone else -- is part and parcel of the galling hypocrisy that infects America's insane drug war on every level.
The latest example of this madness is last week's early morning DEA raid on a medical marijuana club in Santa Cruz, Calif., that caters to terminally ill patients. Although the hospice-style operation has been lauded by local law enforcement officials for its caring and ethical approach, federal agents stormed the place with guns drawn and chainsaws whirring -- leveling its pot garden, handcuffing ailing patients (including a paraplegic) and carting off its founder and director, Valerie Corral, a woman who has been called the Florence Nightingale of the medical marijuana movement.
So much for the president's compassionate conservatism, and its conservative consistency. Back when he was running for president, candidate George W. Bush declared that medical marijuana is a states' rights issue. "I believe," he said, "each state can choose that decision as they so choose." Although the mangled syntax makes it a little hard to tell exactly what the president was getting at, is it consistent with allowing John Ashcroft to order a holy-roller war against cannabis clubs in California, even though it is one of 12 states that have decriminalized the use of pot for medical purposes?
Surely there has got to be a better use of our limited law enforcement resources than busting grievously ill cancer and AIDS patients searching for relief from their suffering. How about unearthing a terrorist cell or two?
And the White House continues to bombard us with those offensive -- and expensive -- TV spots implying that youthful drug users like Noelle Bush are the moral equivalent of Mohammed Atta. Maybe her Uncle George can get her an audition for the next round of taxpayer-funded ads. Show her pulling some crack out of her shoe while saying, "I helped blow up buildings."
Or does that kind of overheated and stigmatizing rhetoric only apply to those other, non-Bush-family youthful drug users? After all, a glaring double standard has been a hallmark of our nation's drug policy for decades. It's why African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the country's drug users but 55 percent of those convicted of drug possession and 74 percent of those sent to jail on possession charges. And why the youthful indiscretions of the rich are routinely treated with a slap on the wrist and a ticket to rehab while poor kids are shipped off to prison.
If America's drug laws were applied consistently, Jeb Bush and his family would be evicted from their publicly funded digs, just as people living in public housing can be thrown out of their homes if any household member or guest is found using drugs -- even if the drug use happened someplace other than in the housing project. And Noelle could find herself joining the tens of thousands of young people unable to get a college education because of a provision in the Higher Education Act that denies financial aid to students convicted of possessing illegal drugs.
But the rich and powerful are judged by a very different set of rules. That's why the staff at Noelle's rehab center tore up a sworn statement incriminating Noelle even though the facility's standard policy is to turn all such matters over to the police.
If, through her pain, Noelle Bush can help open her family's minds as well as their hearts and force them to rethink their disastrous drug policy, the nation -- and millions of young Americans in particular -- will owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.
I wish her much luck.