Drug Czar Gets Cool Reception in S.F.
November 24, 2003
Josh Richman, Oakland TribuneBy Josh Richman, Staff Writers Source: Oakland Tribune
San Francisco -- White House drug czar John Walters received a chilly welcome Monday as he brought his 25-city tour to the Bay Area -- dozens of protesters blasted his stance against medical marijuana, and even his host said he'd been disingenuous.
Walters held a news conference in the drug recovery center at the Tenderloin's Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, which he praised as having "a clear record of achievement" in helping addicts rebuild their lives.
He said he's touring the country's biggest cities to meet with local officials and tour anti-drug programs so they can more effectively work hand-in- hand with strategies, priorities and goals he sets as the Bush Administration's director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
But federal drug policy has clashed with California's for years, most notably since the state passed its medical marijuana law in 1996. Federal law still deems all marijuana cultivation, possession and use illegal, and Californians who've believed themselves protected have been convicted of federal crimes.
Walters said he met with San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan and several city and county supervisors.
"Our conversations have been relatively productive," he said, with all parties wanting to bring more resources to bear more effectively against the drug addiction and drug-related crime plaguing this and other cities. "There have been some differences of opinion ... and we'll probably continue trying to work those out."
But that won't mean softening the federal government's stance against medical marijuana, he said.
"I can't say something is true that's not true and still be effective in my job," he said. "I can't make it go away by lying, by saying, 'It's OK, it's really medicine,' when it's not."
Walters said smoked marijuana has not met the government's testing standards as a safe and efficacious drug, and he criticized deep-pocketed donors who bankroll medical marijuana initiatives, "reprehensibly" using sick people's suffering to argue in favor of drug legalization.
But Walters declined an invitation -- repeated to him publicly Monday by Glide pastor Rev. Cecil Williams -- to discuss the issue with local medical marijuana activists at noon today, also at Glide Memorial.
Walters said he wants to debate initiative funders George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling, but they've refused, and he won't debate their "employees or consultants ... You get Soros here, and I'll be here."
Outside, about three dozen protesters bearing an effigy of Walters and signs depicting him with a Pinocchio-length nose chanted, "No more lies, no more arrests!" Williams came out to greet the crowd after Walters' car pulled away.
"I think he was a little cautious about being so overt" in supporting federal prosecution of medical marijuana providers, Williams said of Walters. "I could tell he was fudging, there's no doubt about it."
And Williams was critical of Walters' refusal to debate today. "If it's going to be solved, it will be solved on this level, with the people."
Steph Sherer, director of Berkeley-based Americans for Safe Access, said Walters talks from both sides of his mouth by stating marijuana hasn't gone through the federal drug-testing process.
"We would love for it to go through the process," she said. "The research is there, and now we have to figure out how to get the medicine to people who need it."
Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)
Author: Josh Richman, Staff Writers
Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Copyright: 2003 MediaNews Group, Inc.