Baffling drug czar choice

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

President Bush's drug czar nominee once told Congress that it should yank all prescription privileges from doctors who recommend medical marijuana for their patients. Monday's Supreme Court ruling, barring doctors from prescribing medical marijuana, would give him authority to act on his convictions. We can only hope that John P. Walters has become less extreme since he voiced his hard-line views to Congress in 1996, when he was a mere Republican drug policy consultant.

In recent months, Bush has impressed liberal and conservative drug policy experts with his measured analysis of why America's drug war has failed. He has observed "maybe long (mandatory) minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease." He has called for more drug treatment programs in prisons and said "the best way to affect supply is to reduce the demand for drugs.'

Bush's decision to appoint Walters to the nation's top anti-drug post is baffling given the president's clear understanding that the nation's drug problem can best be solved by reducing demand at home, not by eradicating supply from abroad.

Recently Walters has railed more loudly than anyone in Washington against drug treatment programs. Perhaps now that he's in charge of a $19-billion budget, he will moderate his convictions.

Maybe he has joined the growing ranks of enlightened politicians, which include many Republicans, who have all come to see that keeping drugs out of living rooms and classrooms, churches and mosques is far more effective-and cost-effective-than using helicopters, submarines, radar sightings and choke points in the Caribbean to stop drugs from entering the United States.

The views Walters once expressed on medical marijuana are part of an old, draconian mind-set. California physicians who recommend medical marijuana to nauseated, emaciated cancer patients should not have to fear that federal agents will bust down their doors.

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