Drug Law

America’s Marijuana Prohibition Apologist-in-Chief: John Walters

| by NORML

Someone should clue in neo-con John Walters (who Drug Policy Alliance director Ethan Nadelmann aptly described once as Bill Bennett’s ‘Mini-Me’) that he no longer is compelled by statute to lie about cannabis any more seeking to thwart the will of American citizens. Blessedly, taxpayers are no longer paying him high wages to lie to beat the band. But, apparently the ‘Weakly Standard’ and Hudson Institute are willing to pay up for Walter’s anti-pot prevarications.

Walters—a political operative who revolves in and out of government jobs when Republicans control the executive branch—in a gratuitously written essay attempts to both praise the Democratic president while condemning him at the exact same time. A difficult feat to achieve, and Walters only disappoints with petty partisanship and self-promotion.

Obama Just Says No to Soros

From the March 22, 2010 Weekly Standard

by John Walters

For anyone who feared that the Obama administration would abandon efforts to control illegal drugs, the president’s first year in office has been on balance reassuring.

The anti-antidrug camp had high hopes that Barack Obama would end “drug prohibition.” Last year, George Soros, a leading proponent of drug legalization and perhaps the most generous financial backer of the president, seemed in a position to get the change he wanted. In fact, Obama drug czar Gil Kerlikowske made it his first order of business to tell the press he was ending “the drug war.” More significantly, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal enforcement regarding “medical marijuana” would be dialed back, which caused the number of storefront marijuana shops in Los Angeles to skyrocket.

Things are looking a little different a year later, however. Kerlikowske turned old school and proclaimed that drug legalization was not in the administration’s “vocabulary.” The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to enforce marijuana laws in California (although without vocal support from Holder). And the Obama administration just released its first drug control budget requesting a fully funded, well, drug war. At the end of the Bush administration, federal drug control spending in fiscal year 2009 was $15 billion—65 percent of it devoted to border security, law enforcement, and other supply control efforts. Obama wants $15.5 billion in 2011, 64 percent for supply control—an increase of $100 million over Bush’s final year.

President Obama did not speak of the importance of drug treatment in his first State of the Union address as his predecessor had, but he requested a bit more money for it—all to the good. And he even tried to avoid adding these funds to the most unaccountable federal treatment programs.

Last year, Congress and the administration cut prevention funding 17 percent, the only significant change from 2009. This year, the administration is seeking to restore some, but not all, of that cut.

The drug-legalization zealots may be singing “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” But with the exception of the Carter administration, when some senior members of the White House staff favored legalization, every president from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama—Republican and Democrat—has sought to attack both supply and demand. It was during the Carter administration that the drug problem exploded, leading to the worst destruction from substance abuse in living memory and the enduring root of the smaller problem still with us today.

It is very important that President Obama has not listened to George Soros on drugs. Should we expect anything more? Are there any signs that the president cares about the drug problem? Will he actually show some leadership on this issue? If he wanted to, he could teach young people something. He could say that illegal drugs make people sick, and his generation did not understand this and paid a horrible price for its ignorance. Now we know better, and we should act like it. If he wanted to show real courage, he could say we know that marijuana makes people sick and that marijuana is the illegal drug causing the greatest dependency and addiction by far. He could even say it is time to stop several decades of lying to ourselves about marijuana and teaching that lie to our children.

President Obama as no other president before him could use his appeal to youth to end, almost overnight, the cultural dogma that drugs are cool. It would be easy for him to become the greatest contributor to drug abuse prevention since Nancy Reagan—and he could explain how difficult it is to stop using these substances even when you know better, as he has found with cigarettes.

Of course, none of this is likely to happen. The Obama administration has shown itself willing to spend to support antidrug programs, but it probably will not lead at home and abroad in the areas where truly historic gains are possible.

President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia has all but taken his country back from drug trafficking terrorists. One result of Uribe’s victories is that dramatically less cocaine reaches American cities. Is that not important to President Obama? The Obama administration could draw attention to this magnificent example of turning the tide against drugs and terror and explain how it happened—a great drug war victory led by Colombia’s president and supported by both the Clinton and the Bush administrations. If similar efforts are led, adapted, and sustained in Mexico and Afghanistan, the damage caused by cocaine, heroin, and marijuana in the United States and globally can be dramatically reduced. The changes would be profound. Does President Obama see this? Thus far, there is no evidence he thinks about it at all.

The president surely did not need Charles Lane of the Washington Post to tell him “medical marijuana is an insult to our intelligence.” But the president and all his key officials—Eric Holder, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Margaret Hamburg, and even Gil Kerlikowske—are playing dumb as “medical marijuana” is brought to Washington, D.C. The agencies of the federal government know what a dangerous fraud this has been in California and particularly in its large cities—Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco. It is beyond question that “medical marijuana” fosters rapid rises in abuse, addiction, and crime. The Post has reported this in detail. Does the capital of the United States need a bigger drug problem? Are all these Obama administration officials really too busy to make the obvious argument that “medical marijuana” is a stupid and dangerous fraud?

We are fortunate that President Obama has resisted the wrongheaded advice of George Soros. But it is not enough. Today, leadership is needed on curbing use of marijuana, helping Mexico defeat the traffickers, and working to integrate the battle against terror and drugs in Afghanistan. On these issues the new boss is failing, and there are already troubling survey results indicating youth drug use may be about to rise. Attitudes about drugs are a product of teaching, not mere spending. The annual reports of historic rates of substance abuse among aging Baby Boomers should have taught us by now that exposing our children to these substances is not dangerous for them only as teens. All too often, substance abuse lasts a lifetime.

Truth and history vs. Walters’ polemical

>Kerlikowske turned old school and proclaimed that drug legalization was not in the administration’s “vocabulary.”

Of course Walters fails to inform the reading audience that Kerlikowske has abandoned Walters’ overblown rhetoric by dropping the term ‘war on drugs’ from the fed’s vocabulary.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal enforcement regarding “medical marijuana” would be dialed back, which caused the number of storefront marijuana shops in Los Angeles to skyrocket.

Is this true? Or, is it more accurate to admit that the massive increase in the retail outlets for cannabis for medical purposes happened under the Bush/Walters tenure, specifically between 2001-2008? Even with the executive branch winning two US Supreme Court decisions against medical cannabis in 2001 and 2005, Bush and Walters (along with fellow Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) utterly failed to stop the massive proliferation and increased popularity of retail cannabis dispensaries in states like California and Colorado.

It was during the Carter administration that the drug problem exploded, leading to the worst destruction from substance abuse in living memory and the enduring root of the smaller problem still with us today.

Is this historically accurate or another pathetic partisan attack? Were there not massive increases in the use of heroin (under Nixon), cocaine (under Reagan), crack (under Bush 1.0), ecstacy (under Clinton) and meth (under Bush 2.0 and Walters)?

He could say that illegal drugs make people sick, and his generation did not understand this and paid a horrible price for its ignorance. Now we know better, and we should act like it. If he wanted to show real courage, he could say we know that marijuana makes people sick and that marijuana is the illegal drug causing the greatest dependency and addiction by far.

Apparently Walters looks to Obama to be as dishonest as he was in misleading and lying to the public and Congress about cannabis. Walters absurd and unscientific claims that cannabis ‘makes people sick’ and that cannabis ‘causes the greatest dependency and addiction by far’ in a country that sells and taxes alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals demonstrates how out-of-touch this man really is and how manipulative Walters tries to be with the distracted ignorance of the general public (and elected policy makers).

He could even say it is time to stop several decades of lying to ourselves about marijuana and teaching that lie to our children.

Talk about self-delusional! Who exactly has been lying for decades about cannabis? Was it not Walters who wasted taxpayer dollars on rank propaganda like ‘Stoners in the Mist‘? Is Walters to have his reading audience believe that government (federal and state executive branches; Congress and state legislatures; the DEA, ONDCP, NIDA, FBI, NIH, etc…) has been lying for decades to the general public in favor of cannabis, and now, Obama has a chance to retard decades of pro-cannabis government propaganda? Does this make any sense to sane people?

But the president and all his key officials—Eric Holder, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Margaret Hamburg, and even Gil Kerlikowske—are playing dumb as “medical marijuana” is brought to Washington, D.C. The agencies of the federal government know what a dangerous fraud this has been in California and particularly in its large cities—Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco.

Once again, resistant to democracy and the will of the voters, Walters is vexed by the fact that voters–not politically-appointed technocrats like him–are determining their fates and public policies, and  childishly bemoaning  current federal officials for not acting in the same reckless, elitist and anti-democratic manner that Walters chose to look down his nose at the public. Obama and Kerlikowske will be as successful as Bush and Walters were at thwarting the public’s will for long overdue cannabis law reforms, which is to say, not at all.

It is beyond question that “medical marijuana” fosters rapid rises in abuse, addiction, and crime. The Post has reported this in detail. Does the capital of the United States need a bigger drug problem? Are all these Obama administration officials really too busy to make the obvious argument that “medical marijuana” is a stupid and dangerous fraud?

I think Walters meant to write ‘It is beyond question that prohibition laws fosters rapid rises in abuse, addiction, and crime.’

Walter blissfully cites the Washington Post as some kind of paragon of clarity against medical cannabis, when in fact the Washington Post editorial board and its columnists over the years, like most of the country, has come to embrace medical cannabis research and law reform.

Irony as rich as a Sara Lee poundcake

In what really is little more than a nakedly partisan, Soros-paranoid attempt by Walters to chide Obama (and by extension the entire presidential field of Democrats in 2008 as all of them supported medical access to cannabis; contrastingly, Republican candidates other than Ron Paul did not) for 1) the audacity of agreeing with approximately 80% of the US public on the question of allowing physicians to recommend cannabis to sick, dying and sense-threatened medical patients, and 2) more importantly, for upholding a campaign promise to back the federal government off of state autonomy on the issue of medical cannabis.

Obama, a real politician, can’t ignore 14 states (with 90 million citizens) who’ve provided legal protections for patients who use cannabis, whereas Walters, near a life-long political appointee who couldn’t get elected local dog catcher, and his duplicitous boss, for eight years, embraced a strange form of anti-democratic elitism as their way to ‘solve’ the failure of cannabis prohibition (President George W. Bush claimed as both governor of Texas and presidential candidate in 2000 that he, along with the rest of the GOP, strongly support states’ rights against a highly centralized, all-controlling federal government in big bad ol’ Washington, DC, but when the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald effectively asked candidate Bush ‘you claim you support states’ rights against encroaching federal supremacy, here in Maine voters elected to pass medical cannabis laws that run counter to federal laws. If elected president, what are you going to do regarding the increasing number of states that are rejecting federal anti-cannabis laws in favor of medicinal access for qualified patients?’ Bush’s reported reply: If elected president I’ll strongly encourage states’ rights, but will rigorously enforce existing federal laws.).

Walter’s obscene boast in his bio at Hudson of reducing teen drug use 25% during his tenure is hard to comprehend and belies any credibility to speak publicly on the topic of cannabis prohibition, as he well knows that government drug surveys do not accurately measure drug use. Is it not ironic that when Walters is in government the monumentally unachievable is claimed, but when out of government, he is hypercritical of those in government for taking scientifically sound and politically popular decisions?

Mirabile dictu

Rather than salivate and snipe in such a partisan way at Democrats who’re responding to the will of the American people on medical cannabis, I suggest Walters and his fellow neo-cons at Hudson (like Lewis Libby, Robert Bork and Norman Podhoretz) should instead pay much more attention closer to home as his fellow conservatives are increasingly abandoning Nixon and Reagan-era policies intended to deter drug use.

How much must it sting for Walters to read about the recent reversal in thinking and advocacy of John Dilulio about drug policy reform? It can’t feel too good when a respected co-author abandons and rejects, for all good and obvious reasons, long-claimed theories and advocacy, and Walters (and Bennett) is still clinging to bogus data, racist criminal justice enforcement and cultural elitism as their justification to continue a self-evidently failed public policy like cannabis prohibition.

The former director of President George W. Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and the co-author with former Drug Czars Bill Bennett and John Walters of the book “Body Count: Moral Poverty…And How to Win America’s War Against Crime and Drugs” has just come out in favor of medical marijuana and serious consideration of marijuana decriminalization.

[In a] 1993 book review for The New Republic, he implied that [drug users] were getting off too lightly. “It is not unreasonable to argue,” he wrote, “that the problem with the ‘get-tough’ approach of the last twenty-five years is that it hasn’t actually been followed. Despite mandatory sentencing laws, most drug offenders and other felons continue to spend only a fraction of their sentences behind bars.”

In a recent article in Democracy his prescription for reducing crime addresses marijuana thusly…

“… legalize marijuana for medically prescribed uses, and seriously consider decriminalizing it altogether. Last year there were more than 800,000 marijuana-related arrests. The impact of these arrests on crime rates was likely close to zero. There is almost no scientific evidence showing that pot is more harmful to its users’ health, more of a “gateway drug,” or more crime-causing in its effects than alcohol or other legal narcotic or mind-altering substances. Our post-2000 legal drug culture has untold millions of Americans, from the very young to the very old, consuming drugs in unprecedented and untested combinations and quantities. Prime-time commercial television is now a virtual medicine cabinet (”just ask your doctor if this drug is right for you”). Big pharmaceutical companies function as all-purpose drug pushers. And yet we expend scarce federal, state, and local law enforcement resources waging “war” against pot users. That is insane.”

One has to wonder what Walters thinks when he witnesses dyed-in-the-blue conservatives like Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O’Grady speak out this week against the obvious, tax-draining, border-destabilizing and ineffective public policy of prohibiting so-called recreational drugs like cannabis?

Revolving government door-types like Walters—who was paid over $1 million by taxpayers to, in the minds of many critics, twist scientific data and oppose democracy in his tenure as ‘drug czar’—should try to minimize their hypocrisy less they may reduce their value next time the political winds change and they, again, get to be a highly paid political apparatchik.