Propaganda Czar

 Article from The Sun

JOHN P. WALTERS is a man on a mission to save Americans from themselves. The director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy told Congress he's battling widespread "ignorance" about the dangers of marijuana, and about the true motives of those who would permit its use for medicinal purposes.

Legalization of the drug is their goal, he contends, which Mr. Walters equates with "giving up" on the problem of drug abuse.

Ignorant hicks we may be, but we know enough to be alarmed about zealots from Washington using our tax dollars to promote ideological crusades.

The Bush administration's drug czar is seeking the power to cut off federal drug enforcement money to local police in states where marijuana has been decriminalized for medical use.

As of yesterday, that could include Maryland, where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed into law a bill that sharply reduces the penalty for marijuana possession when the defendant is seeking relief from symptoms of cancer, AIDS and other devastating illnesses.

Mr. Walters, who waged a fierce last-minute lobbying effort against the Maryland measure, also wants the authority to run advertising campaigns against similar legislation in other states.

This is frightening stuff from a career bureaucratic drug warrior who is not a doctor yet claimed the Maryland legislature had been "conned" into aggravating the state's addiction problems by a "cynical, cruel and immoral effort to use the sick and suffering" to legalize marijuana.

The federal government has no business using tax dollars to help wage such lobbying campaigns, or to punish states that don't fall into line.

Mr. Walters' obsession with marijuana is also wrong-headed, says Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a sponsor of the Maryland legislation and an emergency room physician who has seen the drug wars from the front lines. Cocaine, heroin, alcohol, tobacco - those are drugs that send people into the emergency room every day, he said. Marijuana, almost never. But pot does offer comfort, he said, when comfort is all that doctors can provide.

Mr. Ehrlich, to his credit, gets it. He shrugged off pressure from the White House and signed the bill.

Members of the House Government Reform Committee get it, too. Objections to Mr. Walters' proposals by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and other Democrats may well put a stop to these misbegotten ideas.

Eight other states have medical marijuana laws, and more are pending. Most Americans know that the danger of drugs lies elsewhere. Mr. Walters is wasting his firepower on the wrong target.

Originally published May 23, 2003