Drug Czar Escapes Prosecution for Election Law Violations in Nevada 5/2/03

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The state of Nevada will not attempt to prosecute Office of National Drug Control Policy (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov) head John Walters -- the drug czar -- for violating the state's campaign finance reporting requirements, the Secretary of State's office announced on April 23. The ruling came on a complaint filed earlier this year by the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org/WarOnDrugCzar/) after the drug czar made three trips to the state to campaign against an MPP-sponsored initiative that would have legalized the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana for adults. That initiative failed last November, MPP argued, in part because of Walters' efforts. MPP argued that Walters was actively campaigning in an election, and under Nevada law he should have filed campaign finance reports.

But Walters claimed immunity from state prosecution because he was doing his job as a federal official, and an opinion from the Nevada Attorney General's office backed that position. That opinion cited a 103-year-old Supreme Court ruling that federal officials carrying out official functions are immune from prosecution under state law. "There is nothing we can do," Chief Deputy Secretary of State Renee Parker said as she announced the decision. "Our own attorneys are telling us we will lose."

John Walters

John Walters

The drug czar's office praised the ruling as just common sense. "Director Walters was simply doing his job, to educate people about the dangers of illegal drugs, said ONDCP spokesman Rafael Lemaitre.

The Attorney General's office may have decided that Walters would likely win any case against him, but that does not mean Nevada officials appreciated his efforts. In the opinion he delivered two days earlier to Secretary of State Dean Heller, Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval bluntly criticized Walters' heavy-handed effort to influence voters: "It is unfortunate that a representative of the federal government substantially intervened in a matter that was clearly a State of Nevada issue. The excessive federal intervention that was exhibited in this instance is particularly disturbing because it sought to influence the outcome of a Nevada election."

If Nevada officialdom was not too pleased with the drug czar, MPP was pleased with neither. "The Attorney General's opinion was not based on controlling precedent," said MPP director of government relations Steve Fox. "While the Attorney General cited an 1890 US Supreme Court decision about a crime committed by a federal employee, a Supreme Court case 81 years later laid out the law with respect to state regulation of federal employees. The court held these regulations to be valid if they did not 'frustrate the full effectiveness of federal law.' Requiring the drug czar to file campaign finance forms does not frustrate his purpose; he is free to campaign to his heart's content. Asking the drug czar to file campaign finance reports after campaigning in the state is no different than requiring US Postal Service employees to obey state and local traffic laws while delivering mail."

Walters should still be prosecuted, Fox said. "While Secretary of State Heller asked for this opinion from the attorney general, he is not bound to follow its erroneous legal conclusion. We trust he will act to enforce Nevada law."

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Issue #285, 5/2/03 Editorial: Much to Emulate from Abroad | Senator Nolin Comes to Washington | Cannabis Canada: Decrim on the Way, Says Prime Minister -- The People are Ready, Says Poll | Vancouver: Unsanctioned Safe Injection Site Opens in Midst of Police Crackdown on Downtown Eastside Hard Drug Scene | Peruvian Coca Growers Move from Joy to Anger as Meeting with President Yields FALSE Accord | Sentencing Reform through Budget Crisis: Washington State Passes Early Release Bill | Drug Czar Escapes Prosecution for Election Law Violations in Nevada | Newsbrief: Scottish Police Call for Drug Law Reform | Newsbrief: Oregon House Passes Bill to Restrict Medical Marijuana, Action Pending in Senate | Newsbrief: Friend of Drug Reform Upsets Veteran in Detroit City Council Race | Newsbrief: Utah Marijuana Case against Dennis Peron Crumbles | Newsbrief: Missouri Court Challenges Meth Arrest for Cold Pills | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Web Scan: CSDP, Policy Review, High Point Enterprise | Job Opportunity: Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, DC | Fellowship Opportunity: Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellowship Program, American Civil Liberties Union | The Reformer's Calendar
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