Pubdate: Thu, 25 Feb 1999
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Los Angeles Times.
Contact:  (213) 237-4712
Author: Eric Lichtblau, LA Times Staff Writer


WASHINGTON--Black leaders and public health advocates on Wednesday joined
to protest several hard-line aspects of the federal government's anti-drug
strategy, accusing the White House of spreading misinformation.

In a letter to Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House Office
of National Drug Control Policy, more than two dozen scholars and activists
said they were "deeply troubled" by McCaffrey's "inaccurate and misleading
statements" in opposition to needle exchange programs and medicinal
marijuana, among other issues.

McCaffrey has often found himself at odds with groups that want to ease
enforcement actions and strict sentencing guidelines and place more
emphasis on drug treatment and research.

Those signing the statement included scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and
several of his colleagues at Harvard University, San Francisco Mayor Willie
Brown, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and representatives of public
health groups involved in AIDS research and other issues. The African
American leaders said McCaffrey's hard-line policies have unfairly harmed

McCaffrey said the letter simply reflects "different, legitimate
viewpoints" about how to interpret available drug research, rather than any
distortion by his office.

But he acknowledged that the campaign, organized by the Virginia-based
nonprofit group Common Sense for Drug Policy, had managed to attract a
group of prominent signatories. Calling the incident unfortunate, McCaffrey
said he would send an aide to speak with the group about their concerns.

The missive was delivered the same day McCaffrey met with Pino Arlacchi,
his drug-fighting counterpart at the United Nations, to map out ways of
beefing up multinational anti-drug efforts.

At a news conference later, the two men offered little in the way of
specific new strategies, but stressed the need for increased international
teamwork in combating drug traffickers, and in developing new sources of
revenue for rural areas that now depend on drug production.

Those signing Wednesday's letter to McCaffrey said the United States'
effort has been misguided, focusing on border interdiction and law
enforcement crackdowns at the expense of treatment and research.

"We're disappointed with the White House policy. It's more of the same, and
more of the same isn't working," said Kevin Zeese, president of the drug
policy group.

Pointing to a surge in drug overdoses and incarcerations, Zeese said:
"We've got to look at the drug policy honestly and recognize the failure."

Voters already have begun to do so, Zeese said, by approving measures in
six states last year that make medicinal marijuana legal and authorize other

more liberal policies in the areas of sentencing and treatment. "The voters
are way ahead of the politicians on this," he said.

Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, a specialist in racial issues who

signed the letter to McCaffrey, said he is appalled by the administration's
misleading public statements concerning drug issues, including McCaffrey's
assertion that needle exchange programs are "a magnet for social ills."

"Anyone who has done any work on this will tell you that this can only do
good in terms of reducing AIDS" and other diseases among drug users, he
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake