In a Strong Reversal, Congress Prohibits Drug Czar from Running Ads Against Ballot Measures and Candidates 6/6/03

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(press release from Drug Policy Alliance, http://www.drugpolicy.org)

In a surprising vote, the House Government Reform Committee voted to turn-back sweeping anti-drug measures that a House Subcommittee had approved just weeks ago. If enacted, the anti-drug measures would have, among other things, spent millions of dollars in local and state law-enforcement funding to arrest AIDS and cancer patients that smoked marijuana for medicinal reasons and given the Bush White House the unprecedented ability to spend over a billion dollars in taxpayer money to try to defeat medical marijuana ballot measures and pro-reform candidates for public office. Committee Members not only repealed these provisions, they passed many other important drug policy reforms.

"This is a major victory for the majority of Americans that favor a more compassionate and less expensive national drug policy," said Bill Piper, Associate Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Members of this committee should be thanked for working to ensure that federal bureaucrats don't use taxpayer money to tell taxpayers how to vote, that states that adopt medical marijuana laws are not financially punished, and that former drug offenders are not denied student loans."

The bill under question, the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2003, was ultimately approved by the Committee with significant changes. If enacted by the House and Senate, it would renew the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the so-called drug czar's office) for five more years as well as continue the office's billion dollar anti-drug advertising program.

The House Government Reform Committee:

  • Repealed provisions allowing Drug Czar John Walters and the Bush White House to spend up to $195 millions a year in taxpayer money to defeat medical marijuana ballot measures and pro-reform candidates;
  • Added new provisions prohibiting the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from ever being used to defeat pro-reform candidates, legislation, regulations or ballot measures;
  • Eliminated provisions allowing the drug czar's office to run anti-drug ads without telling voters the ads were paid for by the government;
  • Restored requirements that anti-drug ads include specific information on prevention or treatment resources for viewers within specific local areas;
  • Repealed provisions allowing the drug czar to divert millions of dollars away from local and state law-enforcement agencies to federal agencies to arrest medical marijuana patients and their caregivers; and
  • Supported a provision requiring the Drug Czar to decertify the federal budget if the Department of Education blocks school loans and grants to certain former drug offenders.
Although very important, drug policy experts believe the Committee's reforms do not go far enough. For example, the reform of the ban on providing people convicted of drug offenses with financial aid still leaves tens of thousands of poor and middle-class Americans without the ability to go to college, if their offenses occurred while they were in school receiving financial aid. However, it was the first ever rollback of the controversial program blocking aid to students who received drug convictions. Drug Policy Alliance thanked Representatives Mark Souder (R-IN) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) for the step but also vowed to continue fighting for full repeal.

Recent rulings by the US Office of Special Counsel indicate that the Committee's attempt to reign in the power of the drug czar to lobby and campaign at taxpayer expense doesn't go far enough. The US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) recently ruled that the Hatch Act, a federal law designed to keep federal officials from campaigning at taxpayer expense, does not apply to ballot measure campaigns. OSC ruled that Drug Czar John Walters could legally use the power of his office to campaign against local and state drug-related ballot measures he doesn't like, including spending taxpayer money on campaign trips. OSC even ruled John Walters could use the threat of withholding or giving federal funds to state agencies to coerce state officials into opposing certain ballot measures.

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Issue #290, 6/6/03 Editorial: Courage and Perseverance | Thousands Rally in NYC to Demand Repeal of Rockefeller Drug Laws | Medical Marijuana Cultivator Rosenthal Sentenced to One Day, Plus Probation | DEA Uses RAVE Act Threats to Block Montana NORML/SSDP Benefit | Dems on Drugs: The Presidential Contenders and Their Drug Policies | In a Strong Reversal, Congress Prohibits Drug Czar from Running Ads Against Ballot Measures and Candidates | Newsbrief: Texas Governor Signs Bill Freeing Tulia 14 | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- No in Oklahoma | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- Yes in Missouri | Newsbrief: Feds Reject MPP Complaint Against Drug Czar | Newsbrief: The Next Prohibition? Surgeon General Supports Banning Tobacco | Newsbrief: Belgian Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect | Newsbrief: DEA Can't Kidnap People in Other Countries, Federal Court Rules | The Reformer's Calendar

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