Pubdate: Tue, 01 May 2001
Source: Time Magazine (US)
Issue: Vol. 157, No. 18
Copyright: 2001 Time Inc
Author: Margot Roosevelt


As Bush Proposes A Hard-line Drug Czar, Many States Are Retreating From The 
"Lock-'em-up" Approach

How do you feel about the war on drugs?

That may depend a bit on how you feel about the never-ending drama of 
Robert Downey Jr.  Already facing a court date this week for a drug-related 
arrest in November, Downey was busted again last week when police found him 
lurking after midnight in an alleyway behind a motel in Culver City, Calif. 
He was cited for suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled 

More serious charges, if any, will await the results of a urine test 
administered that night. Downey, who was immediately fired from Ally 
McBeal, quickly checked himself into a rehab clinic, a step that may or may 
not help him much when he stands before a judge yet again.

So let's agree that the drug-infatuated actor is a loser.

But is he a loser who needs medical help to break out of his addiction?

Or is he one who ought to get more hard time--he has already done a year 
behind bars--because that's the only way to get some users to take rehab 
seriously? Is he a threat only to himself?

Or is he the carrier of an infection that could spread if we don't lock him 
away? In short, should we treat him or trash him?

Twenty years after the war on drugs got under way in earnest, the U.S. 
remains far from a consensus on that question.

Even now, no one knows quite where George W. Bush stands on it. Signs are 
growing, however, that he sides more with the hardliners, even as states 
are backing away from the "lock-'em-up" policies they adopted in the past. 
Just last week the President told TIME that addiction "does require 
treatment, and I think we ought to look at all sentencing laws." But one 
day earlier, word leaked that Bush plans to nominate as his "drug czar" a 
man who has emphasized what he calls the "moral lesson" of law enforcement. 
John Walters, 49, who was chief deputy to former czar William Bennett in 
the first Bush Administration, believes nonviolent drug offenders should be 
diverted to treatment on first and second offenses.

But he thinks only fear of jail time, be it weeks or months, will get some 
hard-core addicts (Robert Downey Jr.) into treatment and keep them there.

Bennett describes Walters as "a hard-liner on all fronts" but says he is 
"not somebody who's ignorant of the effectiveness of good treatment and 
education." Walters already served briefly as drug czar after Bennett 
departed but quit in 1993, sharply criticizing then President Bill Clinton 
for offering "no moral leadership or encouragement" in the fight against drugs.

Some 460,000 Americans are behind bars for drug offenses--a tenfold 
increase over 1980. (In 1996, referring to violent offenders, Walters said, 
"I am against the discussion...that there are too many people in jail.") 
Two weeks ago, in another sign that his heart is with the hard-liners, 
President Bush asked Congress to allocate $4.7 billion to the 
federal-prison system, projecting a 32% increase in inmates over the next 
five years, a jump largely fueled by mandatory drug sentences.

Some $40 billion a year is already being spent by federal and state 
governments to prosecute and imprison drug offenders and to try to stem the 
flow of narcotics across the border.

Drug use is down during the past 20 years, which is one important marker of 

But drugs are cheaper, purer and more plentiful than ever. More than 
three-quarters of Americans tell pollsters that the war on drugs is failing.

Even before the film Traffic broadcast its bleak evaluation of the war, 
things had begun to change at the state level, where overburdened 
criminal-justice systems handle most drug offenses.

In the past four years, states have passed 17 of 19 proposed ballot 
initiatives that loosened tough drug laws. While Congress shows little 
interest in repealing stiff federal "mandatory minimum" drug sentences, 
some 700 drug courts have been created or are being planned by various 
states to shepherd narcotics abusers through treatment rather than prison.

Utah and Oregon curtailed police powers to forfeit the assets of suspected 
drug users.

Nine states have legalized medical marijuana, including Oregon, Maine and 

Much of the effort is being bankrolled by three prominent philanthropists: 
New York City financier George Soros; Cleveland, Ohio, insurance magnate 
Peter Lewis; and Phoenix, Ariz., entrepreneur John Sperling. Working 
together they have spent more than $15 million to promote the voter 
initiatives. Their consultants are scoping out Florida, Maine, Michigan, 
Missouri and Ohio for 2002 ballot propositions. "States are going to be the 
engines of reform," predicts New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, a Republican 
who has pushed through two addiction-assistance bills this year. "It's 
still too hot to touch from a national political standpoint," he says.

In the largest experiment of all, California voters last November passed 
Proposition 36. Modeled after a vanguard policy in Arizona (see box), it is 
expected to divert some 100,000 first- and second-time drug offenders from 
prisons into rehab over the next three years. "California's Proposition 36 
highlights the disgust many feel for our current system," says Rocky 
Anderson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, which has been 
dealing with a spate of heroin overdose deaths. "Punitive policies, at 
tremendous taxpayer expense, are an unmitigated failure." Anderson and 
like-minded officials are sending a message to the White House that if the 
Bush war on drugs means warehousing users, many states will be 
conscientious objectors.
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