Six American Zeroes: Reason Enough to Support California Prop 19

By Al Giordano

As support continues to grow for California’s November referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, the six US drug czars from four different administrations have now flailed together to try and stop the biggest electorate in the nation from bringing America back to its senses. In an August 25 column in the Los Angeles Times, Why California should just say no to Prop 19, the six epic losers posse up and ride out West in an attempt to rescue their failed cause.

Because memories are short, let’s review all the big successes of these brave and valiant drug czars, who assuredly saved the nation from drugs and drug abuse and all the violence and corruption caused by policies of prohibition all these years, so we can remind ourselves of why these six American Zeroes are the last people we should listen to when it comes to figuring out how to solve problems associated with illegal drugs.

William Bennett (1989-91)

At the January 1989 press conference when then-president George Bush, Sr. established a new cabinet-level post and named William Bennett as “drug czar,” an enterprising reporter asked how could Bennett – a heavy cigarette smoker – lead the nation away from addictive drugs when he himself was an addict? The press conference briefly halted as Bush and Bennett huddled in the rear of the stage whispering back and forth. Bennett returned to the microphone and announced that for the duration of his term in the National Office of Drug Policy Control he would quit smoking cigarettes.

Nine months later, as Bennett oversaw a major escalation in federal spending and repression against users and suppliers of some drugs, the Doonesbury comic strip revealed a scoop that would later be confirmed by official media: Bennett had been chewing Nicorette, the nicotine chewing gum then only available with a doctor’s prescription, to mask his nicotine addiction.

Bennett’s hardline approach to combating drugs was, as everybody knows, an abject failure and he left the post in just two years, parlaying it into a gig as a national conservative political pundit and author of the so-called “The Book of Virtues.” In 2003, reports revealed that this braggart moralist had lost millions of dollars gambling in Las Vegas. Virtue might not have a book, but it sure does have a bookie.

Bob Martinez (1991-1993)

After Florida voters unseated him as their governor, Martinez replaced Bennett as drug czar. Although not known for any tobacco habit, Martinez did Bennett one better, as the Miami New Times reported at the time: “…if approved by the Senate during confirmation hearings that begin this week, he will be the first drug czar known to have enjoyed the financial support of a major drug trafficker.” You can’t make this stuff up! Click the link to read all about it.

Lee P. Brown (1993-1995)

The former police commissioner in Houston and New York was tapped by then-president Bill Clinton to be a kinder, gentler drug czar, emphasizing Brown’s role as “the father of community policing.” Like his predecessors, Brown accomplished absolutely nothing to curb drug use or abuse in the US, but he did use the post as a trampoline into a job as Mayor of Houston. His was the last political campaign supported by the Houston-based Enron corporation, which went belly-up shortly after Brown’s 2001 reelection.

General Barry McCaffrey (1996-2001)

Narco News owes a great debt of gratitude to General McCaffrey, the craziest drug czar of all, with an even battier press secretary. On our first day of publication, April 18, 2000, I issued a public invitation to the White House to respond to our reports of official corruption, malfeasance and ineptitude in the US-imposed “war on drugs.” And McCaffrey’s spokesman incredulously took the bait… more than a year later, and after McCaffrey had been supplanted as drug czar.

McCaffrey’s spokesman, Bob Weiner (whose congressional campaigns I had covered a decade prior in Massachusetts) apparently discovered the Internet around 2002 after he and his boss left the office and wrote an email-to-the-editor complaining about our coverage of his office. Here’s an example of the quality of work that came out of McCaffrey’s regime:

“Al -- HI! In browsing the net, I JUST saw your strange report of over a year ago (sixth item) when you attacked me (?) for not only my "silencing" two reporters during my then ongoing stint at the White House but my strategies in my congressional campaign...????!!!!  First of all, what am I missing here -- you and I were/are liberals fighting for just about all the same causes, and were then. Second, why didn't you just call me up at that very number you printed (which I am of course no longer at -- now I'm at 202-361-0611). It would have been great to hear from you -- AND I would have given you a lot more substance from your (and my) point of view than you mysteriously printed without, for some reason, even calling me up! What was that all about and why didn't you call?”

“Why didn’t you call?” I haven’t heard that since my last one-night stand.

Anyway, McCaffrey had a few bigger scandals as drug czar, like when he got caught secretly paying millions of taxpayer dollars to TV networks to implant subliminal anti-drug messages on television programs.

And remember how that and the other pioneering work by McCaffrey’s drug war command post stopped the flow of illegal drugs?


Me neither.

John P. Walters (2001-2009)

One of the only members of the George W. Bush administration to last the entire eight years, Walters survived mainly because of his superpowers as The Invisible Man. The former chief of staff to the first drug czar, William Bennett, Walters saw his role eclipsed when in 2001 the war-on-drugs took a back seat to the war-on-terror as the pretext for erasing the Bill of Rights.

Sure, millions of Americans continued to go to jail and suffer when family members were imprisoned for violating drug laws, lost their homes, and were denied access to basic medicines like marijuana even when they were sick, and meanwhile during Walters’ term multiple Latin American countries that had been victimized by US drug policies set a new course away from US dominance.

But, surely, Walters ended the scourge of drug use and abuse utilizing quiet invisible leadership, didn’t he?

Um, guess not.

And now the current drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief friendly to harm reduction policies, somehow got himself caught up signing an open letter with his Rogues Gallery of predecessors.

They chose a title for their LA Times op ed column utilizing that failed slogan of the 1980s war-on-drugs – “just say no” – that had been championed then by First Lady Nancy Reagan. One wonders why they didn’t invite Mrs. Reagan to sign the letter, too. At least she’s a California voter.

As Tom Lehrer says, parody is dead when stuff like this happens: the six guys who most embody the failure of prohibitionist drug policies – none of whom vote in California, by the way - now are telling California voters to continue to bankrupt their state budget on enforcement of laws that can’t be successfully enforced. They might as well have titled their open letter, “We Screwed Up and You Can, Too!”

There can be no more ringing endorsement to vote Yes on Proposition 19 than its opposition from the very bureaucrats that exacerbated the problems associated with illegal drugs over the past two decades with their stubborn and cowardly cling to same policies that clearly have never worked, and never will. But they and their lost war are now at the mercy of California voters, who in November could deliver the fatal blow to a budget-busting drug policy that wore out its welcome years ago.


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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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