THE BLOG
10/17/2014 02:51 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

Hunter Biden's Cocaine Use and Vice President Biden's Evolving Perspective on the Drug War

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Vice President's son, Hunter Biden is making worldwide news after the Wall Street Journal reported that he was discharged from the Navy in February after testing positive for cocaine use.

I have spent the last 15 years working at the Drug Policy Alliance trying to end our country's insane war on drugs. Here are some of my reflections on the Biden family.

Drug use touches most families.

Hunter Biden, Noelle Bush, Al Gore III and Chiara de Blasio remind us that both drug use and abuse touch most families, including those running our country. Despite a $40 billion a year "war on drugs" and political speeches about a "drug-free society," our society is swimming in drugs. Virtually all of us take drugs every single day. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol, marijuana, Prozac, cocaine, Ritalin, opiates and nicotine are just some of the substances that Americans use on a regular basis.

Drug abuse does not discriminate, but our drug policies do.

While drug abuse doesn't discriminate, it is clear that our drug policies do. Despite similar rates of drug use and drug sales across races, African Americans are 13 times more likely to go to prison for drugs. I don't think Vice President Biden's son should be in jail for his cocaine use but neither should so many others who are currently behind bars for drug use or possession.

Vice President Joe Biden's Role in Expanding Drug War

As a Senator in the late 1980s, Mr. Biden was a cheerleader for the drug war. He played a major role in creating the Drug Czar's office and in enacting the draconian mandatory minimum sentences that have filled our prisons with nonviolent drug law offenders. To the Vice President's credit, he has "evolved" a bit on the issue. In recent years, Mr. Biden has championed a number of progressive drug policy reforms -- like introducing legislation to completely eliminate the 100-to-1 crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity and rolling back the mandatory minimums he favored in the late 1980s. The crack/powder disparity wasn't completely eliminated, but was reformed under President Obama.

How Will the Biden Family Move Forward on This Issue?

Optimistically, I would like to envision Mr. Biden, realizing that drug use is so widespread that it even touches his son, would become more sympathetic to other people who use drugs. There are hundreds of thousands of people behind bars serving long prison sentences on drug charges. The realization that other people's kids are living behind bars for doing the same thing that his son did could be a transformative experience. Perhaps Hunter's experience will strengthen his resolve.

Vice President Biden and his son's response should be to join the millions of people who are challenging the ignorance and irrationality of locking up hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens because of a nonviolent drug offense. If Hunter and Joe Biden can use this experience to become involved in changing our inhumane polices, then the Biden family and our country will be better for it.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)