Michele Bachmann: Big Win in Iowa, Blank Slate on Drugs

By Walter Armstrong 08/15/11

As the race heats up, not all the top-tier names have staked distinctive positions on drug policy—but there are some early indications.

Bachmann takes victory lap. Photo via

Saturday's Iowa straw poll was won big by Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Representative and Tea Party cheerleader whose fundamentalist positions played well to one of the most socially conservative of Republican state parties. Most pundits pooh-pooh the straw poll because it's more a GOP beauty contest than a primary: The candidates basically buy votes, paying to bus supporters to the polls and fill their stomachs with barbecue and their heads with equally spicy anti-Obama rhetoric. Yet the event has real consequences—after finishing a distant third, with only 13% of the 10,000 votes to Bachmann's 28% and Ron Paul's 27%, Tim Pawlenty exited the race. Texas governor Rick Perry, who only announced his candidacy hours before the poll, came in sixth, ahead of presumed front-runner Mitt Romney, perhaps the only candidate whose views are moderate enough to appeal to the "independent" voters who often decide who becomes president. For those who rank progressive drug policies and addiction health care high on their agenda, the newly-configured GOP race offers cold comfort. Bachmann is virtually a blank slate on drug issues—her campaign has laid out no real policy positions on the issue. Perry said medical marijuana was OK for California but not for Texas. Romney opposes medical marijuana, period. Of the candidates with a real shot at the nomination, only cantankerous libertarian Ron Paul has a positive rating from NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and seems to have thought deeply about issues like the War on Drugs, which he resolutely deems  ("a failure.") He also supports decriminalization and needle exchange. As the race heats up, the candidates will no doubt attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition. If pressed, they may even take a stand on the fast-evolving and wildly diverging federal and state drug policies. To stay on top of their drug agendas, check out the nonpartisan website On the Issues, which keeps tabs daily. Meanwhile Weed All About It has info on the straw poll and who admits to having toked up, as well as some revealing videos, such as the one below showing Mitt Romney on the spot with a voter with muscular dystrophy.

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Walter Armstrong is the Medical Editor at  Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and the former deputy editor of The Fix. You can find him on Linkedin.