#209 New Drug Czar May Be Worse Than McCaffrey

Date: Tue, 08 May 2001
Subject: #209 New Drug Czar May Be Worse Than McCaffrey

New Drug Czar May Be Worse Than McCaffrey


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #209 Tuesday May 8, 2001

There’s a new drug czar in town, and warning alarms are being sounded
by those who understand drug policy. Columnist William Raspberry, who
has written many enlightened pieces on the drug war in recent months,
noted that former ONDCP employee John P. Walters will likely push drug
policy in the wrong direction (see http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n762/a04.html?15547).

Another reason to be wary of Walters is the strong support shown for
him by professional anti-drug huckster William Bennett, a former
failed drug czar himself. Bennett attempted to rebut Raspberry’s
assessment of Walters in the Washington Post (see article below). A
careful reading of the column actually shows Bennett’s willful
ignorance and his deceptive way of discussing drug problems.

Please write a letter to the Washington Post to refute Bennett’s
slippery appraisal of the situation and to remind editors that
Bennett’s own tenure as drug czar was a disaster that helped push the
US drug war to the wasteful and destructive level we find it at today.

( Letter, Phone, fax etc.)

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This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the one important way we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.

Contact Info

Source: Washington Post (DC)
Contact: letters@washpost.com



US DC: OPED: A Superb Choice For Drug Czar
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n803/a11.html
Newshawk: Jo-D and Tom-E
Pubdate: Mon, 07 May 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/491
Author: William J. Bennett
Note: The writer, co-director of Empower America, was in charge of drug
policy for President George Bush in 1989-90.


William Raspberry devoted his April 30 column to President Bush’s
reportedly imminent nomination of a new federal “drug czar,” the
position I held in his father’s administration. Raspberry has a long
and distinguished record of well-written and thoughtful columns on a
variety of public policy issues. His column of last Monday therefore
was out of character: incautious in its choice of “experts” on whom to
rely for evidence about the drug war status quo and doubly incautious
— bordering on irresponsible – — in its use of such distorted
testimony to tar the reputation of an unusually conscientious public

John P. Walters, the president’s apparent choice to lead the White
House drug-policy office, has been a friend and colleague for 20
years. He is not the man Raspberry imagines.

Raspberry has persuaded himself that Walters is a Torquemada on the
question of drug addiction, someone who believes “we can incarcerate
our way out” of the problem — indeed, someone who is “on record”
asserting that “we’d be better off” if the nation sent a still greater
number of “nonviolent drug offenders” to prison automatically, even on
first convictions for simple possession.

Every bit of this is ridiculous, and Walters believes none of it. He
is “on record” that not just first-but second-time arrestees carrying
small quantities of drugs should be routinely diverted from the
criminal justice system to treatment and prevention programs.

Which, despite popular mythology and Hollywood’s pseudo-docu-drama
“Traffic,” is pretty much what happens already. In the federal system
and nearly every state, the law now generally refuses to imprison
defendants for simple small-time possession violations. In 1999, for
example, the federal law enforcement programs that John Walters would
supervise as the drug czar secured roughly 23,000 courtroom drug
convictions, fewer than 700 on simple possession charges. And it is
only a subset of this already small group of arrestees who are even
theoretically subject to a mandatory prison sentence. Nonviolent first
offenders, in particular, face mandatory federal prison terms for
possession only if they have been arrested with crack cocaine and then
only when the quantities involved are those associated with retail,
street-level drug dealing.

This, then, is the crux of the matter: Should street-level drug
dealers go to prison? John Walters says yes. I would have expected
William Raspberry to agree with him. But Raspberry listened instead to
people who advocate a sweeping relaxation of penalties against drug
offenders — up to and including the proprietors of open-air crack
markets. Raspberry has naively accepted the word of one such fringe
advocate, Ethan Nadelmann, that rates of drug abuse in America “are
roughly equal for blacks and whites.” And that racial disparities in
drug-crime arrest rates must reflect institutional bias in the
nation’s justice system. And that Walters’s reluctance to abandon the
federal minimum mandatory sentence for crack possession represents an
extremist’s endorsement of such bias.

It does African Americans no favor to twist the numbers this way. It
is beyond serious dispute that cocaine and crack addiction
disproportionately plague black people. It is similarly beyond serious
dispute that retail cocaine distribution is disproportionately
concentrated in inner-city black neighborhoods — which is why the
protection of those neighborhoods remains an object of special effort
for federal and state law enforcement agencies and why the resulting
pool of criminal defendants looks the way it does.

Yes, there is a racial skew in the statistics. But I cannot see the
“bias.” What I can see is the disaster that would befall our urban
centers were the Nadelmann’s of this world to get their way. In 1995
John Walters opposed a proposal by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to
raise the threshold quantity of crack necessary to trigger a mandatory
federal prison term. Had this “reform” been adopted, as Nadelmann
wishes, drug dealers arrested with 50 grams of crack — enough for
1,500 sales — would be escaping prison entirely. Fortunately, the
idea was rejected by bipartisan majorities in Congress and by
President Clinton. It pleases Nadelmann to discern racial
insensitivity in this decision. I would have thought it beneath
Raspberry to imply that he is right.

As a senior drug policy official during and after my tenure as drug
czar, Walters did as much as anyone to ensure enactment of five
consecutive federal budgets in which spending on direct drug treatment
services nearly tripled, spending on drug treatment research more than
tripled and general funding priorities were redirected to those
effective “demand reduction” efforts Raspberry properly endorses. It
is an unprecedented record; eight succeeding Clinton administration
drug budgets haven’t come close to matching it. And it should more
than confirm Walters’s commitment to a humane, sensible and
comprehensive federal drug policy.

John Walters would make a superb drug czar. Neither President Bush nor
the country could hope to do better.

The writer, co-director of Empower America, was in charge of drug
policy for President George Bush in 1989-90.



To the editor

William Bennett’s “A Superb Choice For Drug Czar” response to William
Raspberry’s excellent column condemning the choice of John Walters for
Drug Czar was a predictable if disappointing piece.

Bennett claims that Walters will not go after first- and second-time
users in his quest to end the drug war. Yet Walters has said as much,
claiming that the prisons are not filled with users, but rather
big-time dealers. This despite the fact that an American citizen is
arrested every 45 seconds for simple marijuana possession.

John Walters may indeed one day be regarded as a capable drug czar.
But this will only happen if he has the courage to open his eyes and
realize that the nation’s drug laws are far worse for the average
American than the illegal drugs themselves. If he is willing to
regulate currently illegal drugs in a manner similar to alcohol and
tobacco (which kill ten times as many people every year as illegal
drugs), he will be one day regarded as a great drug czar.

Until this happens, though, John Walters must be looked at with
suspicion, if you love America and the Constitution in your heart.

Kevin M. Hebert

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