David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
One of the late pieces of news this week was the final confirmation of John Ashcroft as US Attorney General. The US Senate gave Ashcroft the nod by a vote of 58-42, the closest margin ever for an approved Cabinet official.
As US Senator, Ashcroft had one of the worst, most extreme records on drug policy issues, as DRCNet has discussed in its pages recent weeks. As Missouri Governor, he appears to have given the okay to state police to ignore the state constitution's asset forfeiture clause and launder seized funds through the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and back to their own treasuries, rather than turning the money over to Missouri's schools as the constitution requires.
Still, reformers should keep hope. John Ashcroft is entering office and beginning his job as perhaps the most controversial, highly scrutinized Attorney General ever -- he will be watched, closely. Given the level of attention he has drawn, the nation may be better off than if he had been defeated and someone less controversial but realistically almost as bad been appointed.
Though drug warrior Ashcroft is a Republican appointee, let's all be clear that the drug war holds enough blame to go around. Indeed, two of this week's articles point to ugly drug war policies where Democrats played the leading role.
It took the 9th Circuit Court, for example, to overturn a Clinton Administration policy of evicting public housing tenants if anyone living in a unit uses drugs -- anywhere, not just in the building -- with or without the knowledge of the renters. And one of the outgoing President's last actions was to waive human rights requirements written into the Colombia funding package and send the last piece of aid to a military that works closely with some of the world's most savage killers.
Indeed, the Bush Presidency could help to bring some needed clarity to drug policy. Many liberals were lulled by soft Clinton/McCaffrey rhetoric about treatment and drug prevention, masking a reality made up of ever-increasing arrests, incarcerations and civil rights curtailments. Perhaps Americans concerned about drug policy reform will be more awake to drug war atrocities committed by Republicans than those committed by Democrats.
The Ashcroft appointment certainly appears to be a defeat for drug policy reform. But perhaps in the long run it will turn out to be a victory in disguise. Moving forward with open eyes, our movement and its allies may yet turn adversity into opportunity.