Pubdate: Sun, 03 Feb 2002
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2002 Newsday Inc.
Author:   Ellis Henican
Bookmark: (ONDCP Media Campaign)


It's not all corporate pitchmen at this year's Super (Ad) Bowl.

Joining Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi and tonight's other big-budget image buffers 
is one advertiser with a truly tarnished brand: White House drug czar John 
Walters, desperate to add some luster to the government's discredited war 
on drugs.

Sorry, John.

That'll take more than TV commercials, even during the Super Bowl.

But Walters is a hard-nosed protege of tough-talking drug warrior Bill 
Bennett. Since being confirmed by the Senate in December, Walters has been 
an eager captive of the old-school lock-'em-up approach, emphasizing 
pointless police busts and endless prison terms instead of proven drug 
treatment. And now he's at it again, with a preposterous new message and 
plenty of money to burn.

Our money, of course.

Three-and-a-half million dollars' worth.

It's the highest single-event advertising buy the federal government has 
ever made. And look what all that money will buy: Two 30-second spots on 
the highest-priced TV platform of the year.

The ads advance the cynical claim that nonviolent Americans who use drugs 
are financing international terrorism.

"That's like blaming beer drinkers in the '20s for Al Capone," said Matt 
Briggs of Manhattan's reform-minded Drug Policy Alliance: "It's not the 
product - it's the prohibition that brings the criminals in."

Officials in Washington were refusing to allow an advance look at the 
commercials. So it's impossible to pick apart the language until tonight. 
But the underlying argument can be refuted easily enough.

There's no denying that profits from the illegal drug trade have found 
their way into the hands of terrorists. To cite just one fresh example: 
Opium, the precursor to heroin, was a major cash crop in Afghanistan during 
the rule of the Taliban, generous patron to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

But that doesn't mean we can blame 9/11 on some kid smoking a joint in the 
basement of his parents' home. That's the leap where the drugs-equal-terror 
argument falls apart.

It's not the drugs themselves that produce the huge illicit profits. It's 
the fact that the drugs are against the law.

Change those laws and - snap! Just like that! - those profits will disappear.

You want to blame someone for the drug-terror ties? Blame the politicians 
who refuse to change America's expensive and counter-productive drug laws.

As Briggs points out: "Legal drugs like Xanax and Prozac don't create 
profits that end up in the hands of people like Osama bin Laden. You make a 
product illegal and the worst people in the world will gravitate to the 
trade. It's not normal businesspeople anymore."

It wasn't by accident that Briggs mentioned Xanax. The popular anti-anxiety 
drug, available with a doctor's prescription, makes an appearance in the 
other big drug story of the week.

It's the tale of 24-year-old Noelle Bush, the president's niece and the 
only daughter of Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush.

It's a sad story, a story millions of American families can relate to: a 
young woman with a drug problem, getting picked up by police. Noelle Bush 
was arrested Tuesday night at the drive-in window of an all-night drugstore 
in Tallahassee, trying to scam her way into some Xanax.

She'd phoned in the prescription herself, pretending to be a physician. The 
druggist got a funny feeling and telephoned police.

She was promptly cuffed and taken off to jail - before being released to 
her parents.

Her father and mother put out a statement from the governor's mansion, 
calling the incident "serious." They asked "the public and the media to 
respect our family's privacy during this difficult time so that we can help 
our daughter."

And don't they have the right?

Did it really matter that the child in question was the daughter of the 
governor, the niece of the president of the United States?

Well, in one way, it did.

The governor was asking that his kid be treated in a way that he has 
staunchly refused to treat other people's children, and that's just not right.

During his three years in office, Jeb Bush has packed Florida prisons with 
nonviolent drug offenders, some not so different from his daughter. He has 
cut drug treatment and special drug courts.

Lately, he's been attacking a drug-reform ballot initiative that will go to 
Florida voters in November. It calls for treatment - not jail - for an 
estimated 10,000 nonviolent Florida drug defendants a year.

A super idea, actually - that won't get any advertising boost at the Super Bowl.
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