Drug czar John Walters was in unusually mendacious form Wednesday as he warned an audience at Washington's conservative Center for Strategic International Studies of the Canadian marijuana menace. Walters has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with Canadian moves to liberalize the marijuana laws, his frustration with what he considers Canadian laxness on the issue, and his inclination to intervene in the domestic affairs of a friendly neighbor. It all must have been weighing on him Wednesday.
Mentioning administration "successes" in countries like Colombia and Bolivia, Walters called Canada a blemish on the hemispheric path to drug-freedom. "It is the one place in the hemisphere where things are going the wrong way," he told the assembled wonks. The Canadians had better watch out, he warned, or he might mess with the borders.
"We're not kidding about this. This is not some kind of culture war with Canada," Walters said. "This is about the center of the drug problem in the United States." As evidence supporting that statement, Walters cited one of his favorite canards, telling the audience that marijuana was the cause of one-out-three teenage drug treatment referrals.
Canadian laws are too soft, Walters said, as he urged Canadians he claimed had privately objected to Prime Minister Chretien's decriminalization bill to stand up and be counted. Making a mysterious link between decriminalization of possession for personal use and Canadian marijuana imports to the US, Walters then explained how his comments were not really interfering in Canadian internal matters. "It's their domestic policy in a sovereign country, it's their business," he said. "Shipping poison to the United States is our business."
Oh, where to begin? Mercifully, Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project has already succinctly dissected Walters's litany of lies: "Canadian marijuana is not 'the center of the drug problem in the United States,' Mirken retorted. "The Justice Department's 2003 Drug Threat Assessment estimates Mexican marijuana production at roughly 9 times the level of Canada's, and acknowledges that much Canadian marijuana is for domestic Canadian consumption. US production appears to be even greater than Mexico's.
"Marijuana is not 'poison,' Mirken continued. "It is in fact one of very few drugs that has never caused a fatal overdose, and marijuana use is not associated with an increased risk of death. And three out of five US teens in drug treatment are in treatment for marijuana not because they were addicted but because they were arrested," he added, citing for good measure, "Treatment referral sources for adolescent marijuana users," the DASIS Report, US Dept. of Health and Human Services, March 29, 2002."
Mirken's critique came in a letter to Reuters, whose reporter covered the Walters speech and uncritically reported each lie, distortion, and misrepresentation as if it were fact. "If the drug czar told the Center for Strategic International Studies that the earth is flat, wouldn't someone at Reuters consider it their journalistic duty to point out that such an assertion is at best unproven?" Mirken chided. "Surely statements about the life-and-death issue of drug policy deserve serious and fair scrutiny, whichever side of the debate they come from."
Late update: Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon wasn't particularly pleased with Walters' butting-in, either. In remarks to the House of Commons Thursday suggesting the Canadian government was open to tightening its pending decriminalization bill to appease critics, Cauchon made it clear he wasn't talking about Walters. "He should maybe look in his own backyard," Cauchon responded, noting that more than 10 US states have already decriminalized marijuana. "If it's not correct to move in that direction, maybe he should start spending some time talking to his own states."