Pubdate: Sat, 07 Dec 2002
Source: MSNBC (US Web)
Copyright: 2002 MSNBC
Author: Alex Johnson
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Activists Rethink Strategy, Target Drug Czar

Dec. 7 --  Regrouping after state initiatives to relax marijuana laws were 
defeated last month, some by crushing margins, advocates plan to build on 
public support for medical marijuana programs and have mounted an 
aggressive campaign to discredit federal officials who have made opposition 
to any tolerance of marijuana -- even for medical purposes -- a cornerstone 
of national drug policy.

Supporters managed to get initiatives that would loosen prohibitions or 
penalties on personal use of marijuana on the ballot in Arizona, Nevada, 
Ohio, South Dakota and the District of Columbia.

Among statewide measures, only an initiative to legalize medical marijuana 
in the nation's capital was approved, and it cannot go into effect without 
the approval of Congress, which rejected an earlier voter-approved measure. 
None of the losing measures was able to draw more than 43 percent support.

"I think we've learned that we have a substantial educational job to do, 
still," said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, 
which sponsored the Nevada initiative.

Going For the Whole Pot

Independent experts and advocates on both sides agreed that the initiatives 
failed because they were poorly worded and ran up against unusually 
effective opposition.

Bruce Kleiman, a professor of policy studies at UCLA who researches drug 
policy, crime and health care, said advocates bit off more than they could 
chew, offering measures that went well beyond politically popular medical 
marijuana laws, which have drawn as much as 80 percent support in some polls.

In Nevada, for example, Question 9 would have fully legalized possession of 
as much as 3 ounces of marijuana. The Arizona initiative would have 
decriminalized possession into nothing more serious than a traffic 
violation, while the South Dakota initiative would have legalized hemp 
farms. The Ohio measure would have amended the state constitution to all 
but eliminate jail time for offenders.

"In Nevada, in particular, the thing was really very badly drafted," said 
Kleiman, who is widely considered an honest broker in a debate otherwise 
dominated by fierce partisans. "In particular, their 3-ounce rule made it 
pretty easy to make fun of."

Drug Czar Wades In

Kleiman also credited initiative opponents with being better organized this 

"The discouraging point of view for the advocates of marijuana is [that] 
now the opponents have their act together, and when they've got their act 
together, they win every time," he said.

Opposition was rallied by a series of hard-hitting ads the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy ran across the country in the weeks leading up 
to Election Day, bluntly equating the buying of illicit drugs with support 
for terrorists. Although the ads did not touch on any specific ballot 
proposals, initiative proponents said voters interpreted them as direct 
campaigning by the federal government to vote no.

John Walters, director of the drug policy office, also barnstormed the 
country in the final weeks giving speeches in states where statewide or 
local ballot measures were in play.

The Marijuana Policy Project filed a formal complaint with the Office of 
Special Counsel this week seeking Walters' removal for allegedly violating 
federal regulations limiting government officials' involvement in political 
campaigns. Critics also accused him of diverting federal money earmarked 
for drug treatment and addiction-prevention programs to the political effort.

"He broke the law by using the authority of his office to conduct a 
political campaign, and it was absolutely a campaign of lies and 
distortions designed to frighten people," Mirken said.

Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, which promotes 
decriminalization and sentencing reform, complained that Walters and other 
drug policy officials "are political campaign managers. This is not 
appropriate behavior."

Thomas Riley, a spokesman for Walters, dismissed the complaints as 
"laughable" and "wacky" and cheerfully acknowledged that Walters urged 
Americans to oppose any attempt to relax restrictions on marijuana.

"Part of the description of the job from Congress ... is to oppose efforts 
to legalize drugs," Riley said. "... It's the Office of National Drug 
Control Policy."

Riley said the initiatives failed last month because they were bad ideas. 
Voters did not want to encourage policies that would lead to "more 
addiction, more traffic fatalities ... more drugs available for young 
people," he said.

Back to Basics

Beginning with a conference in Anaheim, Calif., the weekend after Election 
Day, legal-marijuana organizations, which in the past have been fractious 
and difficult to unite, are working out how best to fight back. Two of the 
avenues they will pursue are clear: focusing on what the public has said it 
will accept, and demonizing the drug czar.

Mirken said the initiatives that failed last month were "considerably 
bolder than those initiatives which had passed [in the past], which were 
essentially straight medical marijuana initiatives."

SIDEBAR: 'The discouraging point of view for the advocates of marijuana is 
[that] now the opponents have their act together, and when they've got 
their act together, they win every time.' -- BRUCE KLEIMAN UCLA

"The one in Arizona would have set up a state distribution system of free 
medical marijuana to patients. That was perhaps a bit much for people," 
Mirken said. "And in Nevada, we were dealing with doing away with marijuana 
prohibition entirely and creating a state-regulated market."

Experts said the larger legal-marijuana movement should build on its 
success selling the idea of medical marijuana to the public. Evidence 
suggests that marijuana may lessen the suffering of AIDS and cancer 
patients and people with arthritis, glaucoma and degenerative nerve 
disease, and Kleiman of UCLA said the government's opposition was "a 
complete loser."

Zeese said that on medical marijuana, "we have anywhere from 70 to 80 
percent support nationwide, except maybe in the Deep, Deep South. Generally 
speaking, we have vast support on medical marijuana."

Significant support could be won by highlighting the federal government's 
aggressive assault on providers of medical marijuana in California. Even 
though the state has legalized such cultivation, the Justice Department has 
pre-empted state laws and prosecuted the practice under federal law, 
winning mandatory 10-year minimum prison terms for some defendants.

"Clearly, for both humane reasons and because practical progress is 
possible, we need to work on medical marijuana very seriously in the next 
year or two," said Mirken, who said he and his allies could do a better job 
of raising the specter of federal agents "with automatic rifles rousting 
disabled women out of bed to take their medicine."

"The Bush administration and the federal government is just absolutely out 
of step with the American public" on medical marijuana, he said.

Target: John Walters

Legalization advocates are also mounting a campaign to discredit Walters as 
a Republican partisan using his position to advance a hard-right agenda.

Walters, who was deputy to drug czar William Bennett during the 
administrations of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, has assumed 
a zero-tolerance stance against marijuana, saying it is harmful on its own 
and leads to use of harder drugs. Brandishing several years' worth of 
scientific reports, activists strongly contest both contentions. During the 
years he was out of government, Walters, a prominent conservative policy 
activist, made several pronouncements that have given his critics ammunition.

In 1996, Walters co-wrote a book with Bennett and John DiIulio, who until 
recently directed President Bush's office to promote "faith-based" social 
programs. Titled "Body Count: Moral Poverty and How to Win America's War 
Against Crime and Drugs," the book argued that, among other factors, 
America's drug epidemic could be traced to single-parent families, liberal 
school curriculums and weakening of religious faith.

Walters has also dismissed medical marijuana as "pseudo-science" and 
drug-treatment programs as "the latest manifestation of the liberals' 
commitment to a therapeutic state in which the government serves as the 
agent of personal rehabilitation."

'Declaring War' On Drug Czar

In a statement of its intentions, the Marijuana Policy Project publicized 
its filing against Walters with the Office Special Counsel by saying it was 
"declaring war on the drug czar for his illegal and dishonest activities."

"I think attacking the drug czar's office is an old strategy, not a new 
one," Kleiman said, an observation that Gen. Barry McCaffrey, President 
Bill Clinton's drug czar, would certainly echo. But the tone of the attacks 
against Walters turned distinctly toward the personal: In an editorial this 
month, Reason magazine ridiculed Walters as living in a "sad little 
propaganda dreamworld."

In an interview with Time magazine, John Sperling, the billionaire founder 
of the University of Phoenix, who has donated millions of dollars to 
legalization campaigns, called Walters "a pathetic drug-war soul who is 
defending a whole category of horrors he's indifferent to."

Mirken, the Marijuana Policy Project's spokesman, denounced Walters as a 
"serial lawbreaker" and an "ideologue" with "no interest in facts or data."

"He's a John Bircher of the drug war," Zeese said. "He's an extremist."

Riley, Walters' spokesman, said some of the attacks were so outlandish that 
they could be described only as "goofy" and asked, "What kind of teenage 
fantasy world are people living in?"

"If you had a powerful disagreement with U.S. transportation policy or any 
other kind of policy issue, I don't think that that's a good way to get 
taken seriously," Riley said. "That's a way to fall into the caricature, I 
think, that a lot of people have of the drug legalizers." Kleiman, the UCLA 
researcher, also cautioned that a visceral personal campaign against 
Walters "seems unlikely to be a winner. ... It seems to me if you asked the 
average voter whether the drug czar was against legalization, they'd 
probably say yes and wouldn't think that was a horrible thing."
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MAP posted-by: Alex