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Bush Nominates Hardliner for Drug Tzar

by johnnycrackcorn Saturday, May. 12, 2001 at 9:31 AM

Bush nominates hardliner for drug tzar.

May 11, 2001

Bush Names a Drug Czar and Addresses Criticism


WASHINGTON, May 10 - President Bush today nominated as his drug czar John P. Walters, who has long argued for jail time over voluntary treatment for drug offenders, calling him the man to battle illegal drugs that rob people "of innocence and ambition and hope."

Mr. Bush's choice of the conservative Mr. Walters to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy was criticized by groups that want to emphasize curing drug addiction rather than punishing drug offenders or cutting off the supply of narcotics.

As he introduced Mr. Walters, who served as the deputy drug director under his father, Mr. Bush tried to defuse criticism of his choice by declaring that the administration would emphasize treatment, including through religious organizations. He also said, however, that Mr. Walters would lead "an all-out effort to reduce illegal drug use."

"Acceptance of drug use is simply not an option for this administration," Mr. Bush said in the Rose Garden, to applause.

"We emphatically disagree with those who favor drug legalization," he said, adding that "drug use and addiction would soar."

The administration also said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were the first two employees at the White House to take a drug test. But White House officials declined to say if anyone on Mr. Bush's staff had failed the mandatory test.

Mr. Walters, 49, previously worked at the Department of Education, where he headed the Schools Without Drugs prevention program and then served under William J. Bennett, who was drug czar in the administration of Mr. Bush's father. More recently Mr. Walters has been president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, an association that advises more than 600 donors to charities. He has also served as president of the New Citizenship Project, which promoted the role of religion in public life.

In his writings, Mr. Walters has supported tough prison sentences for violent felons, marijuana smugglers and repeat offenders, though he expressed a more lenient attitude toward first-time drug users. In an article published in March in The Weekly Standard, a magazine with conservative leanings, he denounced the "therapy-only lobby" in Washington and declared that prison sentences, combined with therapy, were a key element to reducing drug use.

"The evidence is that coerced treatment works at least as well as voluntary treatment," he wrote.

Mr. Walters served as acting drug policy director briefly in 1993. He quit in protest when President Bill Clinton sharply reduced the office's staff and announced that he was redirecting antinarcotics policy to focus on hard-core users, while de- emphasizing enforcement and interdiction.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1996, Mr. Walters was scathingly critical of what he called "this ineffectual policy - the latest manifestation of the liberals' commitment to a "therapeutic state" in which government serves as the agent of personal rehabilitation."

Mr. Walters has no shortage of critics.

"Anybody can give lip service to drug prevention and addiction," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, a New York organization that advocates a focus on therapy instead of punishment. "But listen to him and he stands out as a bellicose drug warrior."

Mr. Nadelmann argues that get-tough approaches have "left illicit drugs cheaper, purer and more available than ever."

Among Mr. Walters's defenders is Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, who as Wisconsin governor pressed for more money to treat addiction rather than to build jails. He said Mr. Walters was "much more balanced" in his approach to the drug problem than his critics allowed.

Besides naming Mr. Walters as drug czar, Mr. Bush directed John J. DiIulio Jr., who leads the White House effort to open federal programs to religious community groups, to examine federal partnerships with local groups engaged in antidrug work.

The president said he asked Mr. Thompson to conduct a state-by- state inventory of treatment needs and capacity and report to him within 120 days "on how to most effectively close the treatment gap."

Finally, he asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to submit a plan within 120 days to keep federal prisons drug free and to expand drug testing for those on probation and parole.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Walters would succeed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general who sought to reduce confrontations with drug-exporting countries in Latin America and promoted an advertising campaign to convince adolescents that drugs could ruin lives.

When Mr. Walters's pending nomination became known late in April, General McCaffrey expressed concerns that Mr. Walters overemphasized enforcement and underemphasized treatment.

That seemed to sting the Bush White House, and today President Bush said: "This administration will focus unprecedented attention on the demand side of this problem. We recognize that the most important work to reduce drug use is done in America's living rooms and classrooms, in churches, in synagogues and mosques, in the workplace and in our neighborhoods."

Speaking after the announcement, Mr. Walters sounded a note of determination while subtly criticizing more liberal approaches.

"Our country has made great progress in the past in reducing drug use, and we will do it again," he said.

"Our efforts rest on the knowledge that when we push back, the drug problem gets smaller," he added. "This fact is beyond question today, even if it is not always beyond denial."

Later today Mr. Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said Mr. Bush was not interested in legalizing medical uses of marijuana.

"There are other effective ways, the president believes, to help people who suffer illnesses so they can be relieved of the pain and the symptoms that they're going through," Mr. Fleischer said.

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