Carly Fiorina Loves Addiction Treatment, But Hates Drug Legalization

By Stanton Peele 09/29/15

Why is Fiorina using a personal tragedy to highlight her opposition to legalization?

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina spoke movingly at the second Republican presidential debate about the death of her daughter due to addiction. Fiorina wrote about her daughter’s (actually, stepdaughter’s) death in her memoir. As a result, she believes, “drug addiction shouldn’t be criminalized.” 

This sounds as though Fiorina is a drug-reform candidate, one who wishes to eliminate often-draconian drug laws that have sent so many to prison. But she’s not—since Carly Fiorina's daughter died from alcohol, prescription drugs, and bulimia—she's against marijuana.

At the debate, she spoke out strongly against marijuana legalization after describing her daughter’s death. She won’t even tolerate states like Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and soon California, where Fiorina lives, deciding on their own to legalize.

In response to Jeb Bush confessing to having smoked marijuana when he was younger, she retorted, “The pot today is very different than the pot Jeb smoked 40 years ago.” She said that others who support legalization, like Rand Paul, are doing a disservice when they say pot is like beer. “It’s not!”

Fiorina's statement in the last paragraph is highly ironic because, so far as Fiorina has written, her stepdaughter Lori’s death came because she “drank heavily in college and later, while working in pharmaceutical sales, she began abusing prescription drugs. Bulimia made the problem even worse.”

Then why focus on keeping marijuana illegal?  All of the substances implicated in her daughter’s death are, in fact, legal.

Why does Fiorina oppose marijuana at such a gut level? Indeed, when she received radiation for her breast cancer, she refused medical marijuana: “I remember when I had cancer, my doctor asked me if I had an interest in medicinal marijuana. I did not, and he said good, because marijuana is a very complex chemical substance, we don’t understand how it interacts with other drugs, we don’t understand what it does to your body.”

Fiorina is against drugs, pure and simple. She is of that generation and class of people, like potential Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who despises drugs. She feels they are alien to her way of life, and so they should be forbidden to everybody.  

This attitude is linked to her concept of the disease of addiction, as she indicated during the debate. This is why Fiorina believes that people should be treated for addiction, rather than be imprisoned, on the one hand, at the same time that she thinks that drugs should remain illegal.

The excluded middle includes people who use drugs like marijuana for pleasure and don’t experience problems, or else who choose to deal with their substance problems on their own. This same outlook is reflected, once again, by Democrat Joe Biden. Biden proposed the “Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act” before he left the Senate to run for Vice President (though it was never voted on).

Biden is also known to be the Obama administration’s biggest opponent to marijuana legalization. Yet, when Biden’s son Hunter tested positive for cocaine while serving in the Naval Reserve, the younger Biden seemingly did not enter treatment. And, of course, he wasn’t criminally prosecuted for his drug use.

Perhaps, Hunter felt he was a well-controlled drug user. Or else, he might not think much of standard addiction treatment. He could base the latter opinion on Fiorina’s experience. For in her campaign memoir in which she discussed her breast cancer, Rising to the Challenge, Fiorina wrote about Lori’s death at age 35:

She had been in and out of rehab three times. As anyone who has loved someone with an addiction knows, you can force someone into rehab, but you can’t make her well. Only the addict can do that. Lori couldn’t — or wouldn’t — take that first step of admitting she was powerless over her addiction.

In other words, treatment didn’t fail Lori. Lori failed at treatment. Fiorina still favors powerlessness treatment. It would seem that, if Lori hadn’t died, Fiorina would have gladly encouraged—even forced—Lori to re-enter 12-step rehab so that she could finally learn to accept her powerlessness.

This philosophy seems inconsistent with Fiorina’s political story, which is one of women’s self-empowerment. This empowerment ideology was what enabled her to forge ahead in business, a perspective she expressed strongly in her 2015 memoir, which was subtitled: My Leadership Journey.  

It was Fiorina’s self-assertiveness, after all, that inspired her impressive political ad and her attitude during the debate in counteracting Donald Trump’s sexist barbs about her appearance. As a result, suddenly, Fiorina has vaulted into the top echelon of Republican presidential candidates.

So which is Fiorina in favor of—empowerment of women, or powerlessness for women like her daughter? Fiorina, it seems, switches out of one mode of thinking when she regards her own life and women getting ahead in the world, and into the other mode when she considers her daughter’s life and addiction.

But there is an alternative approach to treatment that draws these two approaches together. It is one that Ilse Thompson and I endorse in our book, Recover! An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life. In our view, it is when people feel most empowered that they succeed best at escaping addictions.

And given Lori’s failure with the powerlessness approach, mightn’t a pragmatic businesswoman and politician like Fiorina consider an alternative? Why would she endorse a program that failed so drastically in her own family?

If Fiorina were open to alternative approaches to addiction treatment, she might also have considered the brilliant suggestion of my colleague Howard Josepher: “Many alcoholics and people addicted to opiates and other pharmaceutical drugs switch to marijuana as a lessor evil. After all your daughter’s failed attempts at sobriety, would you approve of her use of marijuana?”

After all, people don’t die from marijuana use. And wouldn’t Lori be more likely to resort to marijuana if it were actually legal, as California proposes to make it in 2016?

Politicians like Fiorina and Biden discount alternative points of view when approaching drug use. As a result, only a small handful endorse drug decriminalization or legalization. And many, like Fiorina and Biden, strongly oppose such policies.  

So there’s a drug reformer’s nightmare for the 2016 presidential election—Biden v. Fiorina. If either one becomes president, drug reform would be set back years, at least. 

Stanton Peele, Ph.D., is the author of Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. He is the recipient of career achievement awards from the Center for Alcohol Studies and the Drug Policy Alliance. His Life Process Program for treating addiction is available online. He last wrote about why studies are showing that drinking problems are on the rise.

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