- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

John Walters, President Bush's pick as the next drug czar, comes before the Senate amid a lot of loose talk in our country about the war on drugs. Much of what its critics say about U.S. anti-drug policy is wrong and is put out by people whose true agenda is drug legalization, not better drug-control policy.
Most Americans, when presented with the straightforward case for or against legalizing drugs, are very firm: They do not want these destructive substances legalized. Recognizing this, many legalization advocates have taken to disguising their arguments as something else. This lack of candor now passes itself off as concern that the war on drugs is the problem, and not the drugs themselves.
Supposedly, our efforts to keep kids off drugs are futile, and our only rational choice is some version of what is called "harm reduction." Stripped of its sheep's clothing, this would mean teaching American kids how to use drugs "responsibly," and promising treatment for those who fail to do so.
Call it what you will, this so-called harm-reduction strategy is really only harm redistribution. Imagine what such a national policy would mean in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, and on our streets: It would mean condoning drug use and it would increase drug use. It is de facto legalization.
The advocates of condone-but-contain try to argue that, since kids will use drugs anyway, if we would just "go with the flow" and provide treatment in the worst cases, the result will be less drug use, fewer people in jail, fewer needing treatment, less crime and better international cooperation. That's quite a collection of large promises to make and deliver on. They offer them while denouncing our present efforts as bad policies that have failed. But to make their case, they practice rhetorical sleight of hand and make promises they cannot keep but that others will have to pay for.
They want people to believe that our prisons are full of simple drug users who deserve treatment and not jail. In the first place, most people in prison for drug offenses are not there for use. They are there for dealing drugs. To empty our prisons of these dealers in response to wholesale and repeated misrepresentation of the facts does not serve the public interest. (As it happens, it does serve the users.)
Many users do get arrested, to be sure. Few of these, however, go to jail. Many are sent to treatment. Americans need to know that one of the most effective routes into treatment for addicts is the criminal justice system. Addicts only rarely enter treatment voluntarily. Our courts are among the most serious tools we have in separating users from dealers and seeking appropriate outcomes for each. Legalizers, however, hope to disguise this fact. A media sympathetic to their arguments doesn't point it out much, either. The result is that the criminal justice system is portrayed as useless in the difficult job of discouraging drug use.
This is the environment in which we find ourselves. And drug use in the last several years has been on the rise among our young people. This unwelcome fact, and the advent of a well-funded and disingenuous legalization lobby, are reasons we need a strong counter voice fighting for sensible policies.
Mr. Bush's nominee, Mr. Walters, is the right man for the job. He is a bright, articulate, forceful spokesman. It is just those qualities that have aroused the ire of the legalization lobby. They oppose his confirmation.
They misrepresent Mr. Walters' record and try to portray him as part of the problem. His sin? He believes in doing as much as we reasonably can to keep drugs out of this country. His detractors call this concern uncaring and one-sided. He does not believe, they say, in demand-reduction programs. Not true. What he does not believe in is harm-reduction programs. He opposes efforts to legalize drugs, under whatever false flag they fly. That makes legalization advocates unhappy.
Mr. Walters' fervent promotion of treatment for addicts when he served in the first Bush administration doesn't thrill them, either. It becomes tougher to demonize him as hard-hearted. Treatment funding when he was at the drug czar's office in the first Bush administration more than doubled.
What Mr. Walters recognizes, what the president understands and what Congress has consistently supported is that we need a strong policy that addresses the range of problems confronting this country on drug use. With well-funded legalization efforts misrepresenting the facts, we need a strong voice as drug czar now more than ever.
Mr. Walters is the last of President Bush's Cabinet appointees. His nomination has been before the Senate for months. It is time to move swiftly to confirm him in this critical job at this crucial moment. The only ones who profit from delaying and trying to block his confirmation are those who would like to teach our kids how to use drugs better. That is not what Americans want as national policy.

Sen. Charles Grassley and Sen. Jon Kyl are from Iowa and Arizona, respectively.

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