Republicans May Have to Mention Drugs in Florida
Drug issues will be hard for candidates to duck in a state with huge problems and harsh laws.
As the remaining contenders for the Republican nomination move on to the important battleground state of Florida, they may find it harder to avoid controversial drug issues. Florida is one of the nation’s main entry points for illegal narcotics. It's also the US prescription drug abuse capital, with ten times more oxycodone prescribed than in the rest of the country combined. The Sunshine State is also home to some strict drug laws. One controversial law passed last year required welfare recipients to take mandatory drugs tests in order to maintain their benefits; the law was challenge by an ACLU lawsuit and temporarily blocked in October. Many conservative voters will surely rally behind this policy: Newt Gingrich, portraying himself as tough on crime and drugs, has already endorsed the measure. Finally, Florida is also home to the America's third largest prison population, holding over 100,000 people behind bars, which costs state taxpayers more than $2.1 billion per year. Julie Ebenstein, counsel and policy advocate for the Florida chapter of the ACLU, won't win many friends among the Republican field. She suggests that reducing the prison population would be a more effective way to cut costs than welfare tests, contending that Florida's severe laws are a “misappropriation” of tax dollars. “The tough on crime policies have neither abated crime nor abated drug use," she argues, but have instead "burdened the state with these huge increasing costs of prisons."