Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2003
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2003 Independent Media Institute
Author: Robert Kampia
Note: Robert Kampia is executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, 
based in Washington, D.C.
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


On September 10, White House Drug Czar John Walters called for "a
national debate" about marijuana policy. The Marijuana Policy Project
hopes he meant it.

As soon as Walters' offer to debate was reported in the September 17
Seattle Weekly, we faxed the following letter to his office:

John Walters,
Director Office of National Drug Control Policy,
The White House

Dear Mr. Walters,

I was pleased to hear that in your Sept. 10 news conference in
Seattle, you said, "The real issue is, should we legalize marijuana?
Let's have a national debate about that."

You were absolutely correct when you told your Seattle audience that
marijuana policy has never been properly and thoroughly debated in
this country. It's time to have that debate, so I am pleased to accept
your invitation.

I propose that you and I immediately agree to hold a public debate
within the next six months in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. The
time and place should be suitable for national television coverage,
and the debate should be moderated by a neutral journalist chosen by
mutual agreement.

I am confident your offer represents a genuine desire to move past the
demonization of those who disagree with your policies by finally
having an honest debate about the impact of marijuana prohibition. I
have no doubt that - once armed with all the facts - the American
people will make wise choices.

Please have your staff contact my executive assistant, Jen Grizard, as
soon as possible so that we can begin making the necessary
arrangements. I look forward to working with you on this effort.

Robert Kampia, Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project

The offer to debate marks a shift for Walters, who has previously
ducked every opportunity to debate knowledgeable critics of his
policies. Instead, he has made phony offers - for example, singling
out just one of my organization's 13,000 members and offering to
debate him - while hiding from real debate invitations.

Is he serious this time? We don't know. We haven't received a response
yet, but remain hopeful, because Walters' Seattle statement was right:
It is time for a national debate on marijuana prohibition.

It is time for the White House's drug czar to explain why he continues
to paint a distorted, exaggerated picture of marijuana's dangers while
experts around the world are coming to the opposite conclusion. Just a
few days ago, for example, the Swiss Institute for Prevention of
Alcoholism and Drug Abuse told the medical journal The Lancet, "For
the sake of our own credibility we cannot allow that alcohol and
tobacco, which kill 10,000 people a year in Switzerland, are sold with
all kinds of marketing wizardry, while consumption of cannabis, a less
dangerous product, is a legal offense."

It is time for the drug czar to explain why he wants to continue
present policies when all signs point to their utter failure. Consider
the results from the just-released national PRIDE Survey of U.S.
teenagers, one of two surveys designated by Congress as official
measures of the drug czar's success. Walters carpet-bombed the
airwaves with scary commercials telling teens that if they light up a
joint they're likely to commit date rape and shoot their friends, and
what happened?

a.. The proportion of eighth graders using marijuana in the past month
("current use" in research parlance) rocketed from 7.2 percent to 10.2
percent - a 43 percent increase.

b.. Among sixth graders, current marijuana use doubled, from 1.7
percent to 3.4 percent.

c.. Current use of cocaine rose among all age groups over the last
year, nearly doubling among sixth and ninth graders.

d.. Current heroin use among junior high students increased 60
percent. No sane person can look at these numbers without being
alarmed. All of us owe the public an informed, fact-based debate on
whether our country should be considering alternatives to marijuana
prohibition. The lives of our nation's young people are at stake.

We're ready, Mr. Walters. Are you?
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake