Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 x 1383 or Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916
Despite the fact that Americans are increasingly supporting alternatives to the war on drugs, President Bush today appointed a drug czar likely to rely more heavily than his predecessors on policies proven to be ineffective.
Critics note that decades of “get tough” approaches supported by Walters have landed nearly 500,000 Americans behind bars, consumed tens of billions of tax dollars, and left illicit drugs cheaper, purer and more available than ever in the U.S.
“Walters stands for the proposition that drug policy has nothing to do with facts, science or public health,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of The Lindesmith Center – Drug Policy Foundation, the nation’s leading drug policy reform organization. “It’s all about punishment to him.”
Walters, who worked for former drug czar William Bennett in various posts, is seriously at odds with the growing national movement for more humane and effective drug strategies. He is being called “the John Ashcroft of drug policy” due to his extremist views.
Walters even goes so far as to call basic drug war facts “urban myths.” In a recent Weekly Standard op-ed, Walters told readers what he considered to be the three greatest urban myths of our time: (1) that we are imprisoning too many people for merely possessing illegal drugs; (2) that drug sentences are too long and too harsh; and (3) that the criminal justice system is unjustly punishing young black men. Each of these, in fact, is demonstrably true.
Even a cursory glance at the facts proves that Walters is at odds with the truth:
While voters around the country last November passed five major drug policy reform measures, including treatment over incarceration for non-violent offenders, Walters is likely to take the opposite approach by increasing interdiction and incarceration policies, and scaling back the government’s already modest commitment to treatment. This could even put him at odds with President Bush, who has indicated a willingness to re-examine “mandatory minimum” drug sentences; the crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity; and other drug laws with racially discriminatory effects.
Even former drug czar Barry McCaffrey has expressed concern about Walters’s priorities being heavily skewed toward law enforcement. On NBC’s Meet the Press last weekend, McCaffrey said Walters is “focused too much on interdiction” and “needs to educate himself on prevention and treatment.” McCaffrey also complained recently that Walters has voiced a concern “that there is too much treatment capacity in the United States, which I found shocking.”
According to Nadelmann, “America needs a drug czar with the courage to lead a real debate about alternatives to the drug war — someone who understands addiction as a public health issue, not a criminal issue. John Walters is about as far from that as anyone Mr. Bush could have chosen.”
Drug war critics are calling for three concrete reforms that would immediately reduce the harm of the war on drugs. They are: