John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under president George W. Bush, spoke to a contentious audience about the ongoing war on drugs in the Social Science building last night. The lecture was hosted by UC Republicans and the Student Government Finance Committee.
In his talk, Walters spoke mostly about the dangers of drug addiction and the importance of the criminal justice system for drug offenders.
“The view that we are victims of drugs is more than belied by the facts,” Walters said.
But in the question and answer session that followed, many students challenged Walters on his stance against marijuana legalization, contesting him on the notion that drug use could be controlled by cutting the supply and demand of the drug market.
Walters pointed to an 80 percent reduction of LSD use caused by the arrest of a centralized LSD distributor during his first years in office as evidence of how controlling the supply of a drug can reduce use.
However, Walters admitted that drug dealers adjusted for cuts in their supply by making the drugs less pure, allowing them to produce cheaper drugs, causing addicts to return to their drug dealers more frequently for their fix.
“We can’t only attack the drug problem by controlling the supply of drugs,” Walters said. “We have to attack it from both sides of the bridge, and get public health officials involved to tell families to get addicts they know into rehabilitation programs.”
He added that such a collaboration between drug enforcement officials and public health officials would be difficult to achieve, because national drug and public health policy didn’t always agree.
One student in the audience pointed to his native Baltimore, a city where the crime rate and drug use continue to soar, as an example of where Walters’s ideas were ineffective. The student suggested that had Baltimore followed through on then-mayor Kurt Schmoke’s proposal to legalize marijuana in 1988, the city’s drug problem could have been curtailed.
Walters said that Baltimore’s high drug use was an exception to the downward trend of drug use in the United States, and that the city was a “sad case.”
Students also challenged Walters on marijuana’s medicinal status as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has potential for abuse and may not be prescribed. Walters said that he believed that the fact that marijuana could ease pain did not outweigh its potential for addiction, and did not ethically warrant its legalization.
Walters also described marijuana as the most dangerous drug in youth culture today.