After delaying his choice for drug czar for three months, George
W. Bush has picked a far-right retread from his father's administration.
Bush's choice, John
P. Walters, was a top deputy to former drug czar William Bennett.
He supports expanding the military role in combating drugs--including
shooting down planes in Peru--and increased penalties for marijuana,
and opposes needle exchange and reducing the 100-to-1 disparity
between federal sentences for crack and cocaine possession. "Bush
I had Bennett Senior. Bush II has Bennett Junior," says Kevin Zeese
Sense for Drug Policy. "He's hardline on all fronts."
Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice
Policy Foundation says Walters would be the most qualified person
ever to direct the federal government's drug policy, as he knows
the issues and Capitol Hill. The problem: "His views are awful."
Like Bennett, Walters' basic worldview is that drug use--except
for alcohol--is morally
wrong, and that the crack world's teen-age "superpredators" and $5-vial
prostitutes are the progeny of the '60s counterculture. In Bennett
and Walters' 1997 book Body
Count, also co-written with John DiIulio (now head of the
White House Office of Community and Faith-based Initiatives), they
dismiss the argument that marijuana should be legal because few users
go on to have problems with it or other drugs with the non sequitur
that two-thirds of heroin users are addicts. "He's like a religious
zealot," Zeese says, "fighting the war regardless of the facts."
John P. Walters
NEW CITIZENSHIP PROJECT
Walters' appointment makes it unlikely that Bush's drug policy
will focus on treating drug addicts, instead of emphasizing incarceration
and interdiction. In a 1996 paper for the Heritage Foundation, Walters
denounced that approach as "the latest manifestation of the liberals'
commitment to a 'therapeutic state' in which government serves as
the agent of personal rehabilitation."
However, Walters does advocate government funding of religion-based
treatment programs. Meanwhile, Bush's budget for fiscal 2002 would
increase funding for interdiction, and proposes $833 million for
building new federal prisons. Barry McCaffrey, Clinton's drug czar,
told NBC's Meet the Press on April 22 that Walters is "focused
too much on interdiction" and "needs to educate himself very carefully
on prevention and treatment."
In a March article in the conservative Weekly Standard,
Walters wrote that "the widely held view that we are imprisoning
too many people for merely possessing illegal drugs, drug and other
criminal sentences are too long and harsh, and the criminal justice
system is unjustly punishing black men" is among "the great urban
myths of our time." Walters argued that, according to 1997 figures,
only 9 percent of state prisoners were incarcerated on possession
"His data is dishonest," responds Sterling, who notes that the
9 percent figure does not include local jails--and is still a "shockingly
high" number of people imprisoned for simple possession. Walters
also did not mention that more than 60 percent of the people sent
to prison for drugs are black.
Another favorite Walters mantra is that drugs were "de facto legalized"
in the permissive '70s. Then the Reagan-Bush policies of tough enforcement
and "Just Say No" use of the "bully pulpit" reduced casual drug
use by more than half--until the Clinton administration "abandoned
the War Against Drugs" and "de facto legalized" marijuana again.
Widespread defiance of prohibition laws does not mean drugs were
quasi-legal. Marijuana arrests averaged about 400,000 a year in
the '70s, hitting a peak in 1977 that was not surpassed until 1994,
and have since risen to more than 700,000 a year. Walters' claims
that casual use fell in the Reagan-Bush years are based on figures
from annual household and student surveys, which measure people's
willingness to tell a government-funded pollster what drugs they
do and how often. And if Reagan's policies reduced America's drug
problem, there is one glaring exception--crack, which exploded in
American cities in 1985 and 1986.
Yet a pattern of falling casual use and rising addiction may suit
Walters just fine. In the first Bush regime, the Bennett-Walters
line was that casual users were worse than addicts because they
showed that people could use drugs without screwing up their
lives. "Casual use is the vector by which drug use spreads," they
wrote in Body Count, "and while not every casual user goes
on to become an addict, virtually every addict starts as a casual
"Walters hates addiction and he hates drug addicts, and he hates
people who use drugs and aren't addicts even more," Sterling says.
"He's prepared to go to war in the name of zero tolerance."