Pubdate: Fri, 18 June 1999
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 1999 The Miami Herald
Contact:  One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132-1693
Fax: (305) 376-8950
Author: Frank Davies, Herald Staff Writer


WASHINGTON -- A free-wheeling debate on drug legalization broke out in
Congress this week, but only after Republican leaders made it clear
that a hard-line approach to drug issues -- including the medical use
of marijuana -- still prevails on Capitol Hill.

Several members of a House Government Oversight subcommittee, chaired
by Republican John Mica of Winter Park, Fla., pressed federal
drug-control director Barry McCaffrey at a Wednesday hearing to
redirect much of a $185 million TV and radio anti-drug ad blitz to
counter campaigns in several states to allow the medical use of marijuana.

``Why can't we target these states?'' asked Rep. Asa Hutchinson,

McCaffrey resisted. He pointed out that the ad campaign, which is in
several languages, is an important part of wide-ranging anti-drug
efforts that have energized many communities.

``We're going after youth attitudes. We're not going to shift money
around chasing George Soros' $15 million,'' said McCaffrey, referring
to the international financier who has helped fund marijuana
initiatives in several states.

Republican attacks on Clinton administration drug policy dominated
much of the hearing, and it wasn't until later that other views were
heard. Representatives of the libertarian Cato Institute and the
American Civil Liberties Union critiqued the nation's drug policy as a
failed experiment that wasted billions of dollars and eroded states'
rights and civil liberties.

``For years, drug-war bureaucrats have been tailoring their budget
requests to the latest news reports,'' said David Boaz, executive vice
president of the Cato Institute. ``When drug use goes up, taxpayers
are told the government needs more money so it can redouble its
efforts against a rising scourge. When drug use goes down, taxpayers
are told it would be a big mistake to curtail spending just when
progress is being made.''

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's director of drug control, James McDonough,
stoutly defended the drug war, insisting that any decriminalization
would be a mistake. He cited surveys showing that drug use among
Florida's children is 20 percent higher than the national rate.

``The legalizers are wrong, and their advocacy for the legalization of
drugs threatens the well-being of the nation,'' McDonough said.

Wednesday's daylong hearing was billed by Mica as a ``civil discussion
of a complex issue,'' and several subcommittee members pushed for more
money for treatment and rehabilitation. Some conservatives, including
former judges and William F. Buckley, have questioned the underlying
assumptions of the drug war.

But several subcommittee members questioned the legitimacy of the
debate itself.

``We don't debate the pros and cons of rape or child abuse,'' said
Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. ``We don't bring rapists in here to explain
their views.''
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