February 12, 2004 - The Drug Czar in California (2 Stories)

Wed, 11 Feb 2003 - Los Angeles Times (CA)

Medical Pot Backers Picket Federal Drug Czar

About A Dozen Activists Protest As The Official Visits The State Capital. He Says Such Demonstrations Are Part Of A Larger Effort To Legalize Recreational Drugs.

By Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO - A visit Wednesday to the California capital by President Bush's drug czar prompted a placard-waving protest by medical marijuana supporters angry over the federal government's opposition to use of the drug by the ill.

The demonstration by about a dozen activists came as John Walters, director of the president's Office of National Drug Control Policy, met in a downtown office building with members of law enforcement and leaders of the drug treatment effort to discuss the U.S. effort to stem abuse.

"The czar belongs in Russia, not in California," said state Sen. John Vasconcellos, a Santa Clara Democrat who remains one of the Legislature's most vocal supporters of medical marijuana.

Walters, who encountered similar pickets during appearances in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, said the protesters were part of a broader movement to legalize recreational drugs.

"It's not the AMA. It's not a major medical group," Walters said. "These are the people who want to legalize drugs."

At a news conference before the protest, Vasconcellos and several patients who use cannabis as medicine criticized the federal government's stance against medical cannabis, which in recent years had included the arrests of prominent activists and raids at some of the state's medical marijuana dispensaries.

Vasconcellos said "marauding" federal drug agents are wasting taxpayer dollars. He said marijuana was not a gateway drug but instead had been proven to be a worthy medicine for a variety of afflictions.

"They're frightened by freedom," Vasconcellos said. "They've got no science, no compassion."

"Without cannabis, I would be dead right now," said Angel Raich, who in December prevailed in a pivotal federal court case that allowed her to continue using marijuana for a brain tumor and other illnesses. "Our federal government says we're criminals and better off dead."

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg ( D-Los Angeles ) recounted how her close friend, writer and actress Marlene Rasnick, turned to medical marijuana after her weight had dropped precipitously because of cancer. The drug helped restore her appetite and health, Goldberg said.

Rasnick took a turn for the worse, Goldberg said, after federal agents in October 2001 closed down the West Hollywood center where she had obtained marijuana. She died three weeks later, Goldberg said. "That made me understand this issue in a very powerful way," she said.

After the protest, Walters said that marijuana had not been shown to be a safe and effective medicine, and that marijuana was continuing to be the single most prevalent cause of drug treatment in the nation.

"Some people who use marijuana say it makes them feel better," Walters said. "But feeling better is not the standard of modern medicine."

He said that a small group of wealthy businessmen led by billionaire financier George Soros, one of the most aggressive foes of President Bush heading into the 2004 election, was using the medical marijuana movement to promote efforts to legalize recreational drugs.

"They are using the sick and suffering as a prop for political action," Walters said. "I think that is immoral and improper. I think this con has gone on long enough."

Thu, 12 Feb 2004 - Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)

U.S. Drug Czar Now A Backer Of Prevention

By Steve Wiegand, Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

The White House drug czar who once opposed federal support of drug abuse prevention programs came to Sacramento and preached a different kind of sermon Wednesday.

Flanked by local politicians, law enforcement and drug treatment program officials at the federal courthouse, John P. Walters said the U.S. government must become a more effective part of local drug abuse prevention and treatment programs.

"If we stress prevention, if we can stop young people before they start," Walters said, "we can change the face of substance-abuse problems in the country for generations to come."

Walters, whose official title is director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was in Sacramento as part of a 25-city tour designed to tout the development of federal-local drug-fighting programs that emphasize prevention and treatment as well as arrests and prosecutions.

Although the tour has been dubbed a "drug-and-pony show" by some critics, local officials welcomed the prospect of federal aid in sponsoring local programs.

"The old days of law enforcement acting in a vacuum in trying to address the drug problems in this nation are over," said McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, which includes the Sacramento area. "We are now collectively and collaboratively working with prevention professionals and treatment professionals to establish a tripartite approach."

In his proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year, President Bush has asked for $200 million in additional funds for drug treatment, as well as more money for confidential drug-testing programs at schools.

Walters said that about 45 percent of all drug-related funds in the budget are for treatment and prevention.

Among the efforts to be pushed locally are establishment of a Juvenile Drug Court, where youths with drug-related offenses would be diverted into treatment programs; development of a one-stop center to connect those seeking treatment with all of the programs available in the community; and better public anti-drug education programs.

Walters served under the first drug czar, William Bennett, and became the drug policy office's acting director after Bennett left. Walters quit the office in 1993 and became a frequent critic of the Clinton administration's emphasis on prevention and treatment in combating drug abuse.

He questioned the need for direct federal involvement in anti-drug education and expressed doubts about the efficacy of treatment programs. His appointment to the drug czar's job was opposed by some drug treatment supporters, including former first lady Betty Ford.

But Walters said Wednesday his opposition had stemmed from concerns that there were too many ties on federal money to local and state treatment and education programs and too little evidence about how effective some of the programs were.

Now, he said, he is convinced current programs are proving effective.

Walters also reiterated his steadfast opposition to the use of marijuana as medicine, despite voter approval of its medical use in California and eight other states.

Since the 1996 approval of Proposition 215, federal law enforcement officials have periodically arrested and charged sellers and users of medical marijuana for violating federal laws against sales and possession of the drug.

Walters said no scientifically valid study had determined that marijuana was a safe or effective way to treat pain and other effects of illness and injury.

To sanction its use, he said, sent the wrong message to children that marijuana use was OK.

"Marijuana is not medicine," he said. "We in the federal government will enforce the ( federal ) law. Not in a punitive, arbitrary way, but because the law is based on the safety and protection of one and all."

At a subsequent press conference in a Capitol hearing room, however, medical marijuana users and two state legislators demanded that federal law enforcement officials stop arresting and prosecuting Californians using or selling marijuana as medicine.

"You all in Washington seem to have more than enough wars to wage all over the world," said state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose. "Cease and desist your immature, wasteful campaign" of medical marijuana prosecutions.

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