David Borden, Executive Director
The frequency of inappropriate or dishonest (or strange) behavior by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office) seems to be increasing. Last month, DRCNet Blog Editor Scott Morgan and I were wondering at the growing inanity of ONDCP's "anti-drug" ads, which has reached a point where we don't think even ONDCP could really believe they could work. Bizarre productions comparing smoking marijuana with putting leeches on your body, or suggesting if you smoke pot then an alien might steal your girlfriend, were themselves trumped by "Stoners in the Mist
," a fake documentary video posted on ONDCP's AboveTheInfluence.com
web site featuring the fictional character "Dr. Barnard Puck," who performs various experiments on marijuana users to test their behavior and reflexes. It's really hard to see this slickly-produced video as making any positive or meaningful contribution to anything. How much of our money did they spend to create it? I suggested that maybe they've admitted to themselves that the ads just don't work and can't be made to work, and have decided to go wild and have fun with any looney idea they can come up with while the money lasts.
On the honesty front, professors Robinson and Scherlen provided an embarrassment of riches in the form of their recently-released book Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics, which documents in detail the misleading presentations of data ONDCP has made in their annual National Drug Control Strategy reports to create an appearance of an effective drug policy when in reality the policy has proven itself completely ineffective. David Murray, a high-level ONDCP official who is involved with the statistics, professed offense and indignation at a book forum hosted by the Cato Institute where he confronted the authors, artfully playing the part of an injured victim whose integrity has been unfairly maligned.
The details don't support that act, of course, and Murray's most recent public statement demonstrates his true stripes. In testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security last week, Murray offered as evidence against the legitimacy of medical marijuana the claim that Steve Kubby, a prominent medical marijuana advocate, had reversed his position. In a response distributed by email, Kubby vehemently denied the claim, and demonstrated how Murray had taken his words out of context to create an appearance about them that is completely false.
Strange, but not the only strange words to come out of ONDCP recently. According to a news report from Redding, California: "John P. Walters, President Bush's drug czar, said the people who plant and tend the gardens are terrorists who wouldn't hesitate to help other terrorists get into the country with the aim of causing mass casualties."
When I saw the article, my first reaction was to wonder if Walters' presentation could have been misconstrued by the reporter, as it was not a direct quote, but a description. The direct quotes from Walters were offensive enough. But this particular idea just seemed too far out to me for even Walters to be willing to go there. I emailed the reporter to ask about this, but I haven't heard back from him, so I guess I can't say for sure. But I think we should give the reporter the benefit of the doubt, absent any evidence to the contrary. And a post on ONDCP's blog links to the Redding story, and calls it a "good story," suggesting they don't consider it inaccurate. The blog post has been online and unmodified now for six days, plenty of time for the higher-ups to catch anything they considered inappropriate.
Let's all agree that marijuana growers are out to make money, and therefore want most of all to remain undetected and to go about their business. Hence, they have a strong disincentive to get involved in anything that might attract attention to them, including supporting international terrorism targeting the United States. (I can't believe that even needed to be said.)
ONDCP week isn't over yet, though, we still have one more really big one. On Tuesday Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Operations and Government Reform Committee, accused ONDCP of engaging in electioneering last fall by sending drug czar Walters to make public appearances with Republican Representatives and Senators who were facing tough reelection campaigns. The evidence, which involves communications between Karl Rove, former White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor and ONDCP staff, seems pretty compelling to me, at first glance at least. Of course, as drug reformers we know Walters has violated the law to campaign against marijuana reform ballot initiatives many times.
That's a political scandal. The policy scandal is that the agency continues to fund and lobby for programs which they know do not work. From the ad campaign and student drug testing, to Plan Colombia and the drug war as a whole, the evidence clearly shows we're not getting our money's worth, or maybe any worth. Putting that together with the nonsense constantly emanating from the agency -- misrepresentations of facts, violations of state and federal election laws, ads and quotes that can be truly wild and strange -- this seems like a good time to ask whether ONDCP should exist at all. What are we really getting from this agency that's worth keeping? Even people who agree with the drug laws ought to be taken aback at ONDCP's behavior by now.
Catching ONDCP in lies or lunacy or misconduct is getting to be like shooting fish in a barrel.