Pubdate: Sun, 25 May 2003
Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)
Copyright: 2003 St. Petersburg Times


If Republicans in the House get their way, the nation's drug czar may soon 
have the power to spend millions of tax dollars to defeat pro-medical 
marijuana ballot initiatives and candidates. The idea is an unprecedented 
assault on our democratic system.

A provision quietly slipped into this year's Office of National Drug 
Control Policy's authorization bill would give the White House office the 
ability to use its annual $195-million antidrug advertising budget to 
oppose any initiative or candidate supporting the legalization of an 
illegal drug. The measure would turn the public treasury into a campaign 
chest for the president's party, allowing the White House to purchase 
radio, television and print ads in furtherance of its own political goals. 
The tactic of using the people's money to influence their views and 
election results has a familiar ring. It follows a script written by the 
corrupt regimes of Africa and Latin America.

The impetus behind this push apparently stems from the campaigning Drug 
Czar John Walters did last fall against an initiative in Nevada that would 
have essentially decriminalized marijuana. After the initiative failed, a 
pro-legalization advocacy group complained to state officials that Walters' 
activity violated campaign disclosure rules. Walters was found to be immune 
from the state laws, but Nevada's attorney general wrote that "it is 
unfortunate that a representative of the federal government substantially 
intervened in a matter that was clearly a State of Nevada issue."

Now, House Republicans want to erase any bar to such campaigning. 
Apparently they don't like the way the drug debate is going at the state 
level. Eight states have passed ballot initiatives legalizing the use of 
marijuana for medical purposes. Other voter reforms, such as sending 
addicts to treatment rather than jail, have also succeeded. The Bush 
administration wants to be able to put its finger on the scale of future 

The ONDCP authorization bill is currently before the House Government 
Reform Committee where it is being held up by opposition to this provision. 
There should be no compromising here. Once we allow the executive branch to 
use tax money to influence voters, we will have opened a dangerous door.
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