- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

America is struggling with its illegal drug culture partly because of a lack of leadership at the top, the nation’s first drug czar said Tuesday.

William J. Bennett, speaking at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) national conference, said anti-drug activists do a great job in their schools and communities, but stressed that anti-drug messages have to start at the top, wondering aloud “where the hell is the president” on this issue.

“This president, to my knowledge, has not given a single speech on drugs,” said Mr. Bennett, who served under President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when crack cocaine was a national crisis.

In fact, “as far as I can find,” he said, President Obama has talked about drugs twice: Once to say that marijuana is “probably not as bad or any worse than the cigarettes and other stuff I smoked when I was in high school” — which was “not helpful,” Mr. Bennett said.

The second drug mention was that a White House dessert was so good the chef “must have put crack in there or something.”

Mr. Bennett said the president, as a former community organizer, would be expected to know the devastation from that drug and wouldn’t be making “flip comments” about it.

But the saddest part, Mr. Bennett said, is that Mr. Obama was swept into office with the support and adoration of millions of young Americans of all races.

He was “their president,” and “he had the unique opportunity to talk to young people about the dangers they were facing” with drug abuse, “and he has avoided it over and over and over again, at great cost” to people and the country, Mr. Bennett said.

“It’s not enough” to have funding for this or that, he said. “There’s one voice that speaks for the country and that’s the president of the United States.”

Mr. Bennett, a former secretary of education who has a nationally syndicated radio talk show, included some of these points in a new book with co-author Robert A. White, “Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana is Harming America.”

A request for comment at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was not immediately returned.

However, earlier at the CADCA conference, Michael Botticelli, acting director of ONDCP, said the Obama administration’s budget for fiscal 2016 asks for about $12 billion for anti-drug funding — a boost of $768 million.

When those new funds for prevention and treatment are combined with supply- reduction funding, a total of nearly $27.6 billion has been requested for federal drug control programs for 2016, said the ONDCP.

This is “the largest commitment to substance use disorder treatment and prevention efforts to date,” Mr. Botticelli said.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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