WHAT WE THINK
May 25, 2001 | Page 3
A FEW months back, it seemed like the U.S. "war on drugs" might be in for a dose of sanity.
The film Traffic made the failed drug war a topic of conversation in living rooms around the country. California voters approved a referendum requiring treatment instead of prison for nonviolent drug offenders. Even Republican New York Gov. George Pataki was talking about getting rid of the state's "mandatory minimum" sentencing laws.
But the news doesn't seem to have reached the Neanderthals on the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the justices ruled against "cannabis buyers' clubs," which allowed AIDS and cancer patients to buy marijuana for medicinal use.
The court upheld a 30-year-old federal drug law reflecting "a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception." Never mind that nine states have "medical marijuana" laws on the books--most of them through voter referendums. And opinion polls show widespread support for making marijuana available to patients who use it to alleviate pain.
If the Supreme Court ignored established evidence of the medical uses of marijuana, President Bush ignored common sense in nominating John Walters as his new drug czar. Walters is a right-winger whose views on drug policy verge on the fanatical.
As deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under Papa Bush, he pushed for incarceration over treatment and education. In 1996, Walters testified before Congress to defend racist sentencing guidelines that require harsher punishment for people found guilty of crack cocaine possession than powder cocaine possession. He even dismissed the problem of racial bias in drug enforcement as an "urban myth."
Even former drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey--no appeaser in the war on drugs himself--criticized Walters' nomination.
The war on drugs has been exposed as a war on poor people and minorities. But Bush and Walters are looking for more victims.