Pubdate: Tue, 19 Nov 2002
Source: Fox News Network (US)
Copyright: 2002 Fox News Network, Inc.
Author: Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project ( )
Cited: NORML ( )
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Bookmark: (Question 9 (NV))
Bookmark: (Forbes, Daniel)
Note: MAP posted as an exception to our web source item policies.


WASHINGTON -- Backers of drug reform policy say White House officials
overstepped their bounds by using taxpayer funds to actively campaign
against statewide ballot initiatives in the last election.

One group says the federal government might have broken the law and is
considering a lawsuit to bring to light what they say are unethical
activities by the White House. 

Bruce Merkin, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said any formal
suit would target the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Drug Czar
John Walters, who made trips to Ohio, Nevada and Arizona in the last year to
lobby against state ballot initiatives there.

"There are legal, and frankly, moral questions here, particularly when you
consider that he went through some effort in his campaign to demonize those
who were running these initiatives while he runs his own campaign with an
open checkbook of taxpayer money," Merkin charged.

Drug reform initiatives in several states failed at polls on Nov. 5. In
Arizona, 57 percent of citizens killed a plan that would have allowed the
state to distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes.

In Nevada, a plan to decriminalize possession of under three ounces of
marijuana failed by 57 percent. And in Ohio, 61 percent of voters knocked
down an attempt to change sentencing laws to send first and second-time drug
offenders to treatment instead of jail. Drug law amendments in South Dakota
also failed.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization to Reform
Marijuana Laws, said while the initiatives failed for many reasons, the
federal government's aggressive efforts at defeating them should not go

"It doesn't pass the Joe Six-Pack stink test," St. Pierre said. "It doesn't
feel right. If they take money from the federal bureaucracy to travel to
another state to deter its citizens from voting a certain way  it may be

But the drug czar's office disagrees. Walters' job is "to go across the
country and educate people about the dangers of drugs and that's exactly
what he did," said Jennifer Devallance, spokeswoman for the ONDCP, which
receives an estimated $20 billion a year to conduct its anti-drug efforts.

When told about the Marijuana Policy Project's interest in bringing legal
charges against his office for campaigning, Walters said, "That's fine, if
that's how they want to spend their resources - if there's anything the
government has plenty of, it's lawyers."

Todd Gaziano, legal studies director for the Heritage Foundation, said the
critics may not have a legal leg to stand on - given that there are federal
laws against marijuana and drug sentencing guidelines, which make any
changes to the laws, even at the state level, a federal interest.

"Whether you support criminal drug laws or not, the federal government has
an interest in explaining to state residents that a state's changes won't
remove the federal prohibitions," he said.

Tim Lynch, a criminal studies expert at the Cato Institute, said it might
not be that simple.

"I do think the government is stepping outside its proper role. They should
not be engaging in state politics," Lynch said.

"If what he wants to do there is say that federal drug law takes precedence
over the state and we will enforce the law, that's fine. But if he says
anything like, passage of this [initiative] would be terrible, that's state

Gaziano, however, said expressing a personal view it not the same as

"In the course of explaining [the federal interest], if they also express
their personal heartfelt view that drugs are bad and horrible ... that's an
extension of their free speech."

Apparently that's what Walters, as well as Drug Enforcement Agency Director
Asa Hutchinson, did. In several appearances, both men said they would
actively campaign against the initiatives because they were dangerous to

"I am going into every state that has a ballot initiative and working with
people in community coalitions," Walters said before setting off to Las
Vegas to campaign against Nevada's Question 9 in September.

Critics say the government was not only able to send its heavy hitters to
garner media attention and work with local and state officials and law
enforcement against the initiatives, but was behind a multi-million dollar
anti-marijuana ad blitz conveniently launched at the same time.

"I don't think there is little doubt that the federal government made a
concerted effort to put together a game plan that sought to scarily defeat
democracy," said St. Pierre.

Those fighting against the initiatives point out that the supporters had big
outside backing from billionaire philanthropists George Soros, John Sperling
and Peter Lewis, who have been behind many of the drug reform initiatives
across the country in recent years.

And state workers, including Jenny Camper, spokeswoman for Ohio's Campaign
Against Unsafe Drug Laws, which was co-chaired by Ohio's first lady Hope
Taft, said their group didn't need the federal muscle to push their

"We didn't need a lot of presence from national folks. We did really well
without their support."
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