From Counting Coca Plants to Counting Paper Clips


At The Daily Beast, Charles Homans reports that David Murray, a holdover from John Walters' reign as drug czar, is clinging to his job at the Office of National Drug Control Policy despite vigorous congressional attempts to shake him out. Originally a political appointee as Walters' special assistant, Murray became the ONDCP's chief scientist in 2004, a move that made him harder to fire. "By law," Homans writes, "[Obama appointee Gil] Kerlikowske can't touch a hair on his head for the first 120 days of his own stint as drug czar." Homans suggests that Murray, known for his intemperate remarks about allies such as Canada and the Netherlands as well as his contempt for drug policy reformers, is too much of a hard-liner for the reputedly more moderate Kerlikowske. Murray's congressional critics, by contrast, seem to be pissed off mainly because they think he did not take the meth menace seriously enough, preferring to focus the ONDCP's efforts on marijuana. They've cut his division's budget by 98 percent since 2003, from $47 million to $1 million. But Murray is still hanging in there:

The [Senate Appropriations Committee] has made it clear that ONDCP's science shop won't see another dime until Murray is gone, at least from his current job. What happens after that is an open question….While most drug-policy watchers assume Kerlikowske will kick him out of the chief scientist post as soon as he can, actually firing him is trickier. There are ways to encourage burrowed-in ideologues to quit, however—ONDCP veterans recall that George Bush Sr.'s drug czar, Bob Martinez, used to do it by assigning them to an office with no windows, phones, or computers.

"He'll be there until somebody runs him off," Ross Deck, the former ONDCP analyst, says of Murray. "What can they do with him? They can give him a job counting paperclips."

Homans notes that in recent years Murray has faced criticism from the junk-science-debunking Statistical Assessment Service, which he founded. Back in 2004, Murray was honest enough to admit that the medical potential of cannabinoids (a concept Kerlikowske himself has trouble with) is "beyond dispute." Two years later, he was crowing about coca eradication in Colombia, declaring, "This is a trade whose days are numbered." As Nick Gillespie remarked in 2006, regarding Murray's enthusiasm for measuring cocaine consumption by testing wastewater for metabolites, "See what obsession with drugs can do to you?"

[Thanks to LEAP's Tom Angell for the tip.]