Drug czar must abdicate

According to survey data released this month, past-month use of illegal drugs increased from 6.3 percent in 2001 to 7.1 percent last year. These numbers can mean only one thing: It's payback time.

"Drug use has gone up significantly during the first full year of the Bush Administration" crows Bob Weiner, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for most of the Clinton years. The headline over the press release reads, "Survey: Bush Reversing Drug Use Reductions."

Weiner says, "The new administration needs to quit laying blame and start supporting successful Clinton era bipartisan drug programs such as the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign." He bravely insists that a "comprehensive strategy" of "education, prevention, treatment, law enforcement, and foreign policy initiatives must continue to be funded in full."

Weiner can be faulted for the lameness of his proposals: more money for anti-drug ads that demonstrably don't work, along with everything else the government is already doing to stop people from ingesting politically incorrect substances. But in his eagerness to blame George W. Bush for an upward blip in drug use that almost certainly had nothing to do with the president's policies, Weiner is simply aping the behavior of Republicans who accused Clinton of being soft on drugs.

One of the earliest and most persistent critics of Clinton's alleged surrender in the war on drugs marked, oddly enough, by record levels of spending and arrests was John P. Walters, the ONDCP's current director. Walters, who was the office's acting director when Clinton took over in 1993, left in a huff that February, after the president decided to cut his staff, and immediately began attacking the new administration in op-ed pieces and interviews.

In a series of op-ed pieces published by The Washington Times in 1995, Walters and his former boss, Bush I drug czar William J. Bennett, accused Clinton of abandoning the crusade for a drug-free America. "President Clinton has shown little concern about the carnage drugs cause," they wrote. "There is no visible effort by the Clinton Administration to prevent the complete disintegration of foreign supply control.... the Clinton Administration has made [the ONDCP] largely irrelevant."

Walters and Bennett claimed "the results of the administration's indifference are now in. And they are not good." Specifically, they cited an increase in drug use by teenagers between 1993 and 1994, which they described as "the dangerous resurgence of drugs that has occurred during President Clinton's watch."

The latest survey results indicate that drug use by teenagers has risen by 12 percent during President Bush's watch. Isn't it time for John Walters to resign in disgust?

Jacob Sullum is a Reason senior editor. He is the author of a book on the morality of drug use, forthcoming in June from Tarcher/Putnam.