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 of Common 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

John P. Walters

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."

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 charges.

"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 user."

"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."


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