Drug Czar Resigns, McCaffrey to Step Down January 6th 10/20/00

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The nation's drug czar, retired General Barry McCaffrey, announced his impending retirement Monday. McCaffrey will leave office on January 6th after serving for five years.

As the nation's chief drug enforcement officer, McCaffrey gave lip service to an increased emphasis on drug treatment and hinted at a kinder, gentler approach to drug policy with his metaphor of choice being "cancer" instead of "war."

But in fact, McCaffrey presided over five years of more of the same: ever-increasing drug war law enforcement budgets, ever-increasing marijuana arrests, ever-increasing numbers of non-violent drug offenders serving time in American jails and prisons. His reign was also marked by obstinate resistance to voter-approved medical marijuana and an unyielding opposition to industrial hemp production, a position explicable only as an example of drug war-induced mental illness. He was also a key foe of needle exchange within the Clinton administration, and was the principal architect of Plan Colombia, which threatens to turn a simmering Colombian civil war into a full-scale conflagration.

In this last year, McCaffrey has been increasingly beleaguered by an insurgent drug policy reform movement that has had him scurrying from state to state in an ever more obviously futile effort to stamp out the brushfires of change. But many of McCaffrey's wounds are self-inflicted.

His efforts to sneakily buy space and approve scripts for anti-drug propaganda in TV, film, and the print media sparked widespread outrage, only to be followed by the "cookie-gate" tempest, where visitors to an ONDCP web site were tracked. His office also jimmied the numbers on teen drug use in the media and in a mandated report to Congress, to paint a rosier picture than the statistics warranted. And as of this writing, McCaffrey's office faces congressional scrutiny over charges of corruption in its multi-million dollar anti-drug advertising campaign.

McCaffrey has gained a growing reputation as a man who occasionally stumbles over the truth, but promptly picks himself up, dusts himself off, and continues down his merrily mendacious path. This tendency is evident even in the swan song press release announcing his retirement:

  • Drugs "cost our society 52,000 deaths every year." The drug czar's office has repeatedly ignored requests by DRCNet and others to justify or explain this mysterious figure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the fatal overdose figure at 16,000 last year.
  • "We have made prevention of drug use Goal One of this country's anti-drug strategy." The federal budget for drug law enforcement and interdiction exceeds that for treatment and prevention by a ratio of 2:1.
  • "International cooperation has expanded." As DRCNet reports in this issue, in Plan Colombia, the country's most expensive and expansive international drug-fighting initiative, the United States stands alone. European allies denounce our "war policy" and Latin American governments fear creeping US militarism and spillover violence.
"How can you tell when McCaffrey is lying?," asked the Marijuana Policy Project's (MPP) Chuck Thomas. "His lips are moving."

In an only partly satirical swipe at the drug czar, the MPP suggested an appropriate departure ceremony for McCaffrey.

"We suggest hari-kari," said Thomas. "Gen. McCaffrey's drug war has been cruel, costly, and counterproductive. Drug abuse remains rampant despite record numbers of arrests, and his fight against medical marijuana has caused untold pain and suffering among the seriously ill."

Institute for Policy Studies drug policy analyst Sanho Tree told DRCNet, "I'm delighted that General McCaffrey has decided to resign. It's too bad he didn't resign BEFORE he marched us into the Colombian quagmire. Congress and the generals will continue to shift the deck chairs on the USS Quagmire, but that ship is going DOWN and the smart rats are jumping ship."

Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy told the Rocky Mountain News that McCaffrey merited a "C" grade. "I would give him a somewhat higher grade for being right on rhetoric, but a lower grade because we are less healthy and less safe."

Zeese joined in the criticism of McCaffrey's approach to medical marijuana, but gave him some credit for focusing the nation's attention on the problem of drug abuse.

With McCaffrey resigning and a new administration set to take office in January, the appointment of the next drug czar will be an early indicator of the new president's attitudes.

"I hope the next drug policy director will come from a public health background instead of a military one," said IPS's Tree.

Dr. Al Robison of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas agreed. "I would hope we could have a medical doctor or a public health professional this time," he told DRCNet, "but I'm not optimistic."

(Please read our "farewell to McCaffrey" editorial below, http://www.drcnet.org/wol/156.html#editorial for the web version.)

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Issue #156, 10/20/00 Drug Czar Resigns, McCaffrey to Step Down January 6th | Slouching Toward Putumayo: Plan Colombia Gears Up, Battle Front Heats Up, Europeans Throw Their Hands Up, Rights Group Issues Heads Up | Drug War Toll from Police Shootings Continues to Rise -- How Many Dead? Nobody Knows Because Congress Doesn't Care | West Coast Forward, East Cost Back: San Diego Needle Exchange One Step Closer, Defeat in Prince George's County, Maryland | Follow That Story: Tulia Relief Fund Issues Appeal | Barney Frank Makes Drug War an Issue, Again | Europeans Release 2000 Drug Report | The Reformer's Calendar | Editorial: Saying Goodbye (and Good Riddance) to a Drug Czar
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