Weed Watch

The feds are again using citizens' dollars to campaign against citizens' drug law reform initiatives.

It's election season again, and, in the world of drug-law reform, that can mean only one thing: Time for federal narcos at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy – home to the nation's "drug czar," John Walters – and their buddies in the Drug Enforcement Administration to get busy spending your hard-earned tax dollars – and using their official titles, offices, and government e-mail addresses – to get out on the campaign trail in an attempt to thwart citizen-driven – and thus, also taxpayer-supported – ballot initiatives that seek to reform marijuana-related laws.

Revising his 2002 role as drugs-are-scary stump speaker extraordinaire, czar Walters headed back to Nevada last week to campaign against an ambitious ballot measure that would legalize possession of and tax and regulate sale of marijuana to adults. This is the second time the initiative has been on the ballot (it failed in 2002) and thus the second time Walters has jetted to the Silver State to try to quash the measure. Walters was roundly criticized for his actions last time, which state-initiative supporters at the Marijuana Policy Project argued were not only a violation of Nevada state election law, but also a violation of the 1939 Hatch Act, the federal law regulating the political activities of government officials. In the end, Walters didn't even get a knuckle rapping for his actions, and now, he's baaaack, swooping into Reno to offer a doomsday vision of a world where pot is taxed and regulated.

The czar's boldness here is a little surprising, given that his office – and his leadership of it – have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. Last week the federal Government Accountability Office released its latest assessment of the ONDCP's youth anti-drug media campaign – you know, the folks who brought you the whole this-is-your-brain-on-drugs crap and the pot-smokers-support-Osama ads. The GAO pointed out that the anti-drug commercials simply don't work and suggested cutting the office's $1.2 billion budget until the "ONDCP is able to provide credible evidence of the effectiveness of exposure to the campaign on youth drug-use outcomes," or, the GAO suggested, until the office can "provide other credible options for a media campaign approach." Already, legislators were increasingly wary of Walters' stewardship; in April, according to The Des Moines Register, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley called on President George W. Bush to give Walters the boot because of his insistence on spending time (and, thus, money) campaigning against pot and not enough time working on more insidious problems, like, say, the manufacture and use of methamphetamine.

But Walters forges on, undaunted. His trip to Reno was arranged, ostensibly, to hand off federal funds earmarked for fighting drug couriers in northern Nevada, says Neal Levine, campaign manager for the drug-reform initiative known as Question 7. But Levine says Walters made plenty of time to attack the tax-and-regulate proposition, saying that regardless of whether Q7 passes, the "feds won't let this happen," and even going so far as to give out the Web address for the campaign against the proposition (ironically dubbed the Committee to Keep Nevada Respectable).

Meanwhile, in Colorado the DEA has been stepping up its efforts to defeat a statewide ballot initiative that would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults. The proposal was brought by reform advocates Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, the group behind a series of successful initiatives that aim to "equalize" penalties associated with pot and with booze – including initiatives in the city of Denver and at several state universities, among them UT-Austin.

SAFER successfully collected enough voter signatures to place the so-called Equalization Initiative on the November ballot – a move that has clearly miffed the DEA, whose employees are apparently using their official titles and offices to organize a fairly well-funded opposition group. The Boulder Daily Camera broke the news last week, after receiving a copy of an e-mail penned by local DEA Agent Michael Moore – using his Department of Justice e-mail address (michael.w.moore@usdoj.gov) – to local political campaign professionals, seeking to hire a campaign manager. "Colorado's Marijuana Information Committee is looking to employ a campaign manager to defeat a proposed ballot initiative that would legalize the possession of up to 1 oz. of marijuana for adults 21 years and older," Moore wrote in his Aug. 8 e-mail. "Campaign manager must be able to start immediately and have experience managing statewide campaigns. Committee has $10K to launch campaign and hire manager." Interested candidates, Moore writes, should contact him at his DEA office. SAFER Director Mason Tvert quickly cried foul, arguing (as Q7 supporters have as well) that the DEA's efforts are out-of-line, against Colorado state election law, and possibly in violation of the Hatch Act. In part, equalization supporters want to know, who is providing the $10,000 Moore touted in his e-mail? Denver DEA Special Agent in Charge Jeff Sweetin told the Boulder daily that the money has come from "private donations," and there is nothing illegal about Moore's activities. "The American taxpayer does have a right to have the people they've paid to become experts in this business" – presumably the federal narcos, though how their experience with arresting drug users qualifies them as drug-policy experts remains a mystery – "tell them what this [proposition] is going to do," he said. Taxpayers "should benefit from this expertise" – insight that "Weed Watch" presumes would sound eerily similar to czar Walters' gloom-and-doom, sky-is-falling prohibitionist nonsense.

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