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Peanuts, candy, heroin


The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) once occupied itself with protecting Americans from the total ruin that follows inexorably from that first puff on a joint. Its new mission is apparently to protect us (and, coincidentally, its budget) from Americans who question its policy.

The Office took heat over a recent spate of ads linking drug users with terrorists. (The spots showed drug users solemnly intoning "I helped to blow up buildings" and "I helped to kill policemen.") The ONDCP has responded with a new round of ads defending the first set, and one even raises the objection that drug prohibition is responsible for the link between drugs and crime, just as alcohol prohibition handed gangsters a lucrative new source of revenue. In a spot called "Mini-Mart," a drug-friendly barfly offers the obvious solution: change the law. Another replies: "Cocaine on the playground. Crack stands at the laundromat, heroin at the mini-mart, like that?" The legalizer is duly chastened: "Yeah, that doesn't sound so good, does it?"

When that kind of soundbite-sized moral clarity isn't enough, though, the office is willing to take a more hands-on approach. ONDCP Director John Walters drew criticism back in December for campaigning against a decriminalization initiative in Nevada, an effort state attorney general Brian Sandoval, in a letter to Nevada's secretary of state, called "particularly disturbing because it sought to influence the outcome of a Nevada election."

Now his deputy, Scott Burns, is under scrutiny for a November letter encouraging local prosecutors to work with legislators to defeat similar initiatives. The ONDCP is barred by law from using federal funds to encourage grassroots lobbying, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has asked the General Accounting Office to investigate the propriety of Burns's actions. In order to prevent any future embarrassment on that front, the 2003 bill reauthorizing the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign lifts the statutory ban on spending for partisan political purposes.