Drug czar gets cool reception in S.F.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- White House drug czar John Walters received a chilly
welcome Monday as he brought his 25-city tour to the Bay Area --
dozens of protesters blasted his stance against medical marijuana,
and even his host said he'd been disingenuous.

Walters held a news conference in the drug recovery center at the
Tenderloin's Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, which he praised
as having "a clear record of achievement" in helping addicts rebuild
their lives.

He said he's touring the country's biggest cities to meet with local
officials and tour anti-drug programs so they can more effectively
work hand-in-hand with strategies, priorities and goals he sets as
the Bush Administration's director of the Office of National Drug
Control Policy.

But federal drug policy has clashed with California's for years, most
notably since the state passed its medical marijuana law in 1996.
Federal law still deems all marijuana cultivation, possession and use
illegal, and Californians who've believed themselves protected have
been convicted of federal crimes.

Walters said he met with San Francisco District Attorney Terence
Hallinan and several city and county supervisors.

"Our conversations have been relatively productive," he said, with
all parties wanting to bring more resources to bear more effectively
against the drug addiction and drug-related crime plaguing this and
other cities. "There have been some differences of opinion ... and
we'll probably continue trying to work those out."

But that won't mean softening the federal government's stance against
medical marijuana, he said.

"I can't say something is true that's not true and still be effective
in my job," he said. "I can't make it go away by lying, by saying,
'It's OK, it's really medicine,' when it's not."

Walters said smoked marijuana has not met the government's testing
standards as a safe and efficacious drug, and he criticized
deep-pocketed donors who bankroll medical marijuana initiatives,
"reprehensibly" using sick people's suffering to argue in favor of
drug legalization.

But Walters declined an invitation -- repeated to him publicly Monday
by Glide pastor Rev. Cecil Williams -- to discuss the issue with
local medical marijuana activists at noon today, also at Glide
Memorial.

Walters said he wants to debate initiative funders George Soros,
Peter Lewis and John Sperling, but they've refused, and he won't
debate their "employees or consultants ... You get Soros here, and
I'll be here."

Outside, about three dozen protesters bearing an effigy of Walters
and signs depicting him with a Pinocchio-length nose chanted, "No
more lies, no more arrests!" Williams came out to greet the crowd
after Walters' car pulled away.

"I think he was a little cautious about being so overt" in supporting
federal prosecution of medical marijuana providers, Williams said of
Walters. "I could tell he was fudging, there's no doubt about it."

And Williams was critical of Walters' refusal to debate today. "If
it's going to be solved, it will be solved on this level, with the
people."

Steph Sherer, director of Berkeley-based Americans for Safe Access,
said Walters talks from both sides of his mouth by stating marijuana
hasn't gone through the federal drug-testing process.

"We would love for it to go through the process," she said. "The
research is there, and now we have to figure out how to get the
medicine to people who need it."

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com .


East Bay Times - Contra Costa and Alameda county news, sports, entertainment, lifestyle and commentary
By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER
Oakland Tribune 11/18/03