The Red Line between Love and Hate

Jun 30, 2009

John Walters, Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Steve Fox, MPP’s new director of state campaigns (who was also MPP’s federal lobbyist from 2002-2005), sends in the following dispatch:

While riding the Metro’s Red Line yesterday, I spotted former drug czar John Walters entering the train. When he ended up standing right beside me, I realized I couldn’t pass up the chance for a conversation. I know it sounds like a fruitless endeavor, but I’m an eternal optimist and thought, “Maybe if we have a casual lunch together, he’ll come to see the folly of keeping marijuana illegal.”

I opened with a polite, “Hello, Mr. Walters. I just wanted to introduce myself. I am Steve Fox and I work with the Marijuana Policy Project.” The chipper look on his face quickly changed. It looked like he had just thrown up in his mouth a little and was regretting the fact that he had nowhere to spit.

I said, “I know we have been on opposite sides of the issue, but I was wondering whether you would be interested in having lunch any time just to talk about our differences and to see whether we have any mutual interests.” He seemed to stifle a laugh and said, “I don’t think that would be worth our time. You know where I stand and I know where you stand.” This is not the first time I have been turned down for a date, so I let it slide right off. More importantly, I had more work to do. I had just eight more minutes to get him to support ending marijuana prohibition.

I don’t mean to spoil the ending, but it didn’t work. But it was a fascinating conversation nonetheless. The most interesting part is that he never broke character. I assumed he must, at some level, appreciate that most of what he said during his tenure as drug czar was either a distortion of the facts or completely ignorant of other available information. Boy, was I wrong.

He proceeded to give me all of his standard lines as if they were actually true and meaningful, like alleging (incorrectly) that marijuana is the leading cause of drug treatment admissions for teens, even more than alcohol.

When I asked him if he really thinks that marijuana is more harmful than alcohol, he quickly said, “Sure.” I said, “I mean, in terms of overdose deaths, overall deaths from use, the likelihood of causing domestic abuse and other forms of violence?” He said, “I talk to directors of treatment facilities and they tell me that those who are violent use all kinds of substances – marijuana, alcohol, heroin, cocaine…”

As we reached his stop, I repeated my lunch offer and extended my hand with my business card. For a moment, I thought he was going to just walk away, but he took it with a look of annoyance on his face.

I assume that card is in the trash somewhere now. But perhaps it is sitting on his desk and each look at it is making him ponder the true value of his work as drug czar.

As I said, I am an optimist.

[P.S. – Be sure to check out Steve’s new book, Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, July 2009).]