FIGHTING "CHEECH AND CHONG" MEDICINE

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Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jul 2000
Source: Salon.com (US Web)
Copyright: 2000 Salon.com
Contact: salon@salonmagazine.com
Address: 22 4th Street, 16th Floor San Francisco, CA 94103
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Author: Daniel Forbes

FIGHTING "CHEECH AND CHONG" MEDICINE

Did The White House Drug Office Go Too Far in Trying To Stop the
Spread of Medical Marijuana Initiatives?

NEW YORK -- When voters in California and Arizona passed ballot
measures legalizing medicinal marijuana in November 1996, White House
drug czar Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey mobilized his troops to combat the
spread of what he had previously called "Cheech & Chong" medicine.

McCaffrey quickly proposed that doctors who "recommend or prescribe"
marijuana be stripped of their DEA registration -- that is, their
ability to write prescriptions for controlled substances -- and be
excluded from treating Medicare and Medicaid patients.

But a group of California doctors and patient advocacy groups sued to
enjoin those restrictions, and a federal judge agreed. Now that same
lawsuit provides evidence of a more ambitious, but less well-known,
effort by McCaffrey's Office of National Drug Control Policy to stop
the spread of state initiatives legalizing medical marijuana -- an
effort that, among other achievements, helped inspire the ONDCP's
controversial taxpayer-funded, anti-drug media crusade.

The cooperation of the ONDCP and its key ally, the Partnership for a
Drug-Free America, in the fight against medical marijuana is a little
known chapter in the annals of the nation's ongoing drug war. In the
last few years, drug warriors have attempted to slow the spread of
medicinal marijuana initiatives, and, with varying success, block
their implementation in states that passed them -- even as data about
the therapeutic uses of cannabinoids, the chemicals that appear in
marijuana, to treat nausea and pain is increasingly well documented.
In fact, for nearly 20 years, the federal government sought to curb
medical marijuana research, and McCaffrey has been among the most
zealous bureaucrats on that front.

But the documents uncovered by the California lawsuit reveal the
extent of McCaffrey's role in spearheading the political fight against
medical marijuana -- and in turn, the role played by the pot
initiatives in strengthening the drug warriors' determination to mount
a paid media campaign, at least in part to keep similar initiatives
from passing in other states.

Within days of the California and Arizona pot initiatives' passage,
for instance, McCaffrey convened a high-level meeting of some 40
government and private sector drug warriors to plan a response to the
medical marijuana threat. At least one participant knew at the time
that the meeting -- convened by federal officials to counter the will
of state voters -- would be controversial if word of it ever became
public.

"The other side would be salivating if they could hear [the] prospect
of [the] Feds going against the will of the people," commented Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation vice president Dr. Paul S. Jellinek, according
to notes of the meeting taken at the time and uncovered by the
California doctors' lawsuit.

Daniel Porterfield, who is currently vice president of communications
for Georgetown University, attended the meeting as a deputy assistant
secretary in charge of coordinating various anti-drug efforts within
Health and Human Services. He told Salon, "The reason for the meeting
was to organize the effort for the other 48 states."

One outcome of the meeting was a determination to step up the media
war against drugs, which helped lead to ONDCP's paid media campaign.

Salon revealed earlier this year that television networks, TV
producers and some magazine publishers inserted anti-drug messages
into television shows and nonfiction magazine articles in order to
fulfill ONDCP's requirement that it get ads on a two-for-one,
half-priced basis -- or that programming or editorial content satisfy
this stipulation.

The White House drug office stumbled back into the headlines a few
weeks ago, when McCaffrey told members of the House subcommittee on
Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources that his office
plans to expand its media campaign to influence the content of movies,
not just television and magazines.

Elaborating on the plan and referring to potential financial credits
for films with anti-drug motifs, ONDCP spokesman Bob Weiner told the
Los Angeles Times, "But if the movies choose to do that, they can
submit it to our contractors after the movie is completed for review
for credit."

Meanwhile, ONDCP critics question whether the federal agency or the
tax-exempt PDFA should have been seeking to influence state elections
at all. "The use of government resources to politic on controversial
issues is clearly against ethics, as well as the law stating that
federal employees can not take public positions for or against
legislation under consideration," insists Thomas H. Haines, head of
the Partnership for Responsible Drug Information, a persistent
McCaffrey critic.

American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen believes the
meeting convened by McCaffrey, which according to an attendance record
included no medical-use proponents, raises "at the very least a moral
and political question.

It raises First Amendment-type concerns about the nature of a free
society, and what an open debate should be in a democratic society."

McCaffrey declined to comment for this story, but Weiner told Salon:
"Consistently throughout this process, Gen. McCaffrey has been aware of the
[political] restrictions, and has honored them." Weiner wouldn't comment
directly on the November 1996 ONDCP meeting.

But when asked about whether the paid media campaign had the potential
to create a national political climate inimical to the passage of
medical marijuana initiatives, he responded, "If it has a peripheral
effect, so be it."

Steve Dnistrian, executive vice president of PDFA, also denied that
the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign was designed to combat
medical marijuana legalization. "The NYADMC is focused on teens,
pre-teens and parents. No ads or other pieces of communication have
anything to do with medical marijuana," he said in an e-mail.
Dnistrian told Salon that discussions about the paid media campaign
began long before concerns about medical marijuana initiatives "were
even on the radar."

But even some of those invited to McCaffrey's November 1996 meeting
now say that there were concerns about the political nature of the
discussions, and questions about whether the campaign's organizers
should be seeking to sway public opinion against medical marijuana
initiatives.

It was Nov. 14, 1996, just nine days after the passage of medical
marijuana initiatives in California and Arizona, that McCaffrey
convened the first meeting at ONDCP's Washington office.

The attendees included then DEA administrator Thomas A. Constantine
and three other DEA officials; seven ONDCP staffers; and
representatives of the FBI as well as the U.S. Departments of Justice,
Treasury, Education and Health and Human Services. Also present were
White House domestic policy adviser Leanne Shimabukuro and public
liaison Christa Robinson, plus eight senior executives from private
groups supportive of the drug war, including the president of the
Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

With overwhelming public support, the medical marijuana votes
represented a rebuke to the anti-drug mandate of McCaffrey's office.

The initiative passed in California by 56 percent and in Arizona by an
astounding 65 percent. In 1998, District of Columbia voters approved
their initiative by 69 percent, though no one knew of the landslide
for a year because Congress delayed counting the vote. According to
two separate versions of meeting minutes obtained by Salon, as well as
interviews with several participants, these government officials and
senior executives intended to ensure that neither voters nor
legislators in the other 48 states would pass similar medical use
legislation.

The two sets of contemporaneous notes surfaced as part of the
discovery process in the federal lawsuit Conant vs. McCaffrey,
currently under adjudication in the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of California. The lawsuit was filed in response to
Gen. McCaffrey's formal policy statement -- issued Dec. 30, 1996, at a
press conference attended by Attorney General Janet Reno, Health and
Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and a DEA official -- in which
he threatened to revoke the federal prescription-writing privileges of
doctors who recommended or prescribed medical marijuana to their
patients, bar them from treating Medicare and Medicaid patients and
criminally prosecute them. The plaintiffs were granted a preliminary
injunction; the next court date is Aug. 3.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs provided Salon with copies of documents
the federal government has made available to them as required by the
court in the case's discovery process.

Currently a senior trial attorney at the Justice Department, Wayne
Raabe was a staff attorney for ONDCP in November 1996. He confirmed
his attendance at the meeting, and that he authored one set of the
notes, but declined to comment further.

Some participants in the ONDCP meeting believed that the medical
marijuana effort veiled a broader movement that sought gradual
full-scale legalization of the Schedule 1 controlled substance.

According to the notes, James E. Copple, then president and CEO of the
Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, told his colleagues, "Need
to frame the issue properly -- expose this as legalizers using
terminally ill as props." Maricopa County District Attorney Richard
Romley, who led the Arizona delegation, stated that, "Even though
California and Arizona are different prop[osition]s, the strategy of
proponents is the same. It will expand throughout the nation if we all
don't react."

As summarized in the documents' clipped parlance, Copple also told
those gathered at the meeting, "We'll work with Arizona and California
to undo it and stop the spread of legalization to other 48 states.

Twenty-seven states have the potential." He added, "Need to go state
by state. $ to do media." And Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates, long a
prominent critic of medical marijuana, is quoted as saying,
"Legalizers are going national.

We need to get organized quickly to counter the Americans for
Compassionate Use" -- a pro-medical-use group.

In addition to Copple's statement regarding media funding, comments
from two executives of the private Partnership for a Drug-Free America
suggest that the meeting was a major catalyst in replacing the
nonprofit advertising and media industry umbrella group's then nearly
decade-old, donated-media public service campaign with a taxpayer
funded effort.(PDFA is an unpaid consultant in ONDCP's media campaign,
and its name appears on all of the campaign's advertising.) As PDFA
executive vice-president Mike Townsend stated at the meeting, "National
Partnership [PDFA] concerned about what they can do about spending $ to
influence legislation."

One attendee who asked not to be identified said, "I recall a general
discussion of the media campaign, what should and shouldn't be done."

PDFA president Richard Bonnette laid out the challenge to the group.
"We lost Round I -- no coordinated communication strategy.

Didn't have media," the notes quote Bonnette telling his colleagues.
One participant not clearly identified in the notes asked the
gathering, "Who will pay for national sound bites?

Campaign will require serious media and serious $."

PDFA's Townsend suggested the group should reach out to "California
parents" and, according to the notes, said the effort required "$175
million. Try to get fedl $." In fact, that was the amount backers of
the anti-drug media campaign first asked Congress for, according to
Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., chair of the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy
and Human Resources subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee.

In a memo to his House colleagues, Mica wrote: "In 1996 and 1997, the
PDFA approached Congress for assistance. The PDFA worked with Congress
to fund the President's budget request ($175 million) to replace the
decline in donated media air time." Congress later bumped the first
year's appropriation up to $195 million. Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation prescient Dr. Jellinek worried aloud about the political
implications of such a campaign.

According to the notes, he told the group: "It is a political
problem.

You need a Federal response, but [it] can't be viewed as outside
interference." Reached last week for comment, Jellinek said, "I don't
have anything more to say. If you have the quote, you have the quote.

Let it stand.

Let it speak for itself." Fueled significantly by money derived from
shares it holds in pharmaceutical and healthcare giant Johnson &
Johnson, Jellinek's foundation contributed $15 million to the PDFA in
1999 alone.

But PDFA's Townsend told Salon, "I never said anything about that."
PDFA president Bonnette did not respond to multiple requests for an
interview.

During the meeting, attendees viewed television commercials paid for
during the elections by proponents of the medical marijuana
initiatives. The notes summarize the remarks of Orange County Sheriff
Gates as follows: "Money made the diff. on [California's] Prop 215. $2
million spent - advertising campaign - Drug Policy Foundation - Soros
$." The last references are to a reform group and billionaire
financier George Soros, a major financial backer of medical use
initiatives.

A second participant, who requested anonymity, told Salon, "People
were talking of Soros money at the meeting.

That was a real topic, and that there was limited federal money that
could be used. We were trying to counter the California and Arizona
initiatives. But at that point there was no money." Eleven months
later, a five-year, $2 billion (half public, half private) federal
campaign was instituted to shape the views of Americans of all ages
regarding illegal drugs. Asked two weeks ago whether the intent was to
limit further state initiatives to approve usage of medical marijuana,
another participant who asked not to be identified said, "Yes. They
wanted to influence public opinion. There was a lot of talk that this
was the tip of the iceberg of a national campaign to legalize
marijuana, period."

But White House deputy press secretary Jake Siewert says, "The switch
to the paid media campaign was driven entirely by the decision to move
to curtail drug use. In fact, ONDCP is specifically prohibited from
using political messages in paid advertising." Confronted with
Jellinek's statement about the "Feds going against the will of the
people," Siewert said, "I don't understand it." But Siewert did
caution that "The ONDCP is prohibited from involving itself in
political causes in its advertising." When asked whether the meeting
was intended to roll back the California and Arizona initiatives,
Siewert stated, "Ask McCaffrey." A public statement released by
McCaffrey on December 30, 1996, refers to the meeting and states that
the "coordinated administration strategy" was developed by the group
"at the direction of the president."

When McCaffrey was deposed for the California doctors' lawsuit on May
23, 2000, he stated that the November 1996 meeting "was an
organizational meeting to sort out what are we going to do about
Proposition 215." In response to another deposition question, he
replied, "It wasn't an open debate. It was what are we going to do
about the proposition."

McCaffrey's role in fighting medical marijuana has been multifaceted.
Until 1999, the federal government only permitted research on the
health benefits of the drug using limited grants from the National
Institutes of Health, which effectively put the lid on such proposals.

But last year, the Clinton administration said it would sell limited
quantities of government-grown pot to legitimate medical researchers,
who could then secure financing from sources other than the NIH. The
move came only after a report by the National Academy of Sciences'
Institute of Medicine confirmed some healthful benefits of marijuana
-- a study McCaffrey tried to downplay.

But researchers seeking to study the medical merits of smoking
marijuana still find themselves frozen out. Dr. Ethan B. Russo, a
neurologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of
Washington School of Medicine, has been trying for years to gain
approval to study the effectiveness of smoked marijuana as a treatment
for chronic migraines. "After the Institute of Medicine report came
out in 1999, they said they would streamline the process.

But it hasn't happened; the process is every bit as difficult as
before.

It's smoke and mirrors." McCaffrey has even threatened legal action
against California Attorney General Bill Lockyer if he promoted
medical marijuana research on the state level.

Following the ONDCP-convened meeting, PDFA chairman James E. Burke
moved to take action on his colleagues' sentiments, including their
desire for federal money.

Working closely with Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, he began a heavy
lobbying campaign in Congress to transform his organization's model of
donated ads into the current taxpayer funded program.

Portman's former chief of staff, John Bridgeland, told this reporter
last year, "Burke came to Portman, came up and wowed a lot of folks on
the Hill."

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chair of the House Appropriations
subcommittee which funds the drug office, and the self-styled "chief
appropriator" of the ONDCP media campaign, said last year, "We were
convinced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to spend tax
dollars." Finally, testifying before the Senate Appropriations
Committee on February 3, 2000, ONDCP campaign media director Alan
Levitt stated, "PDFA is a key campaign partner. Mr. Jim Burke,
chairman of the Partnership, has been one of the strongest advocates
for this public-private media campaign."

For its part, PDFA has said that the public campaign was necessary
because privately donated advertising was drying up. But while PDFA's
donated advertising declined in the early '90s, it didn't exactly
evaporate. According to Competitive Media Reporting, a company that
tracks advertising spending, the value of PDFA's anti-drug campaign
was larger than the advertising budgets of many of the country's most
established brands.

With $278 million worth of donated advertising time and space in 1995
and $252 million in 1996 (down from 1991's peak of $367 million), PDFA
was the fourth and fifth largest advertised "brand" in the country --
competing alongside companies like AT&T and Burger King for the
public's attention.

It should be acknowledged that the media campaign has never directly
tackled the issue of medical marijuana in its paid advertising. And
yet fully half of the current ONDCP advertising budget for a campaign
nominally geared toward curtailing youth drug use is actually directed
at adults. According to a statement issued on Jan. 18, in response to
a Salon article about its anti-drug script-doctoring relationship with
television networks, the "pro bono [sic] match component" of the ad
program has "generated over 100 million teen and tween [read:
pubescent] impressions and 250 million adult impressions."

ONDCP's priorities would seem to lie at least as much with influencing
adults -- who profoundly influence kids' attitudes and behaviors, but
also vote -- as with steering children away from drugs.

The November 1996 meeting took place immediately following an election
season in which President Clinton had been slammed by the Republicans
as being soft on drugs.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R.-Texas, described the administration as
"drug coddling" during the 1996 Republican convention, a theme echoed
by candidate Bob Dole.

Last month -- when ONDCP was offered the chance to respond to a draft
of a congressionally mandated, General Accounting Office analysis
critical of McCaffrey and the drug office's management -- ONDCP chief
of staff Janet Crist wrote: "The agency is very mindful of previous
congressional complaints that the administration had been 'AWOL' in
the area of drug control early in its term and determined to respond
to constituent demands that their extensive efforts in the areas of
prevention, treatment, enforcement and interdiction be publicly
recognized." But the October 1997 legislation that paved the way for
the paid media campaign states that ONDCP must submit a strategy for
approval by both the House and the Senate that includes "guidelines to
ensure and certify that none of the funds will be used for partisan
political purposes." As their statements quoted in this article
suggest, the participants discussed using public monies for a media
campaign to try to defeat a specific political viewpoint -- one that
will be contested in the upcoming elections in Colorado and Nevada.

Medical use initiatives have passed in six states: California,
Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Maine. A non-binding first
initiative also passed in Nevada, and an initiative in Colorado was
disqualified because supporters hadn't gathered enough signatures to
get it on the ballot.

Both states will reconsider the matter this year. Additionally, this
past spring, state legislators in Hawaii voted to allow medical use.

When asked about her department's participation in the meeting,
Department of Education spokesperson Melinda Malico would say only
that "General McCaffrey sets drug policy for the federal government.
We participate in many meetings over at ONDCP." The Treasury and
Health and Human Services departments declined comment.

However, in the statement he issued on Dec. 30, 1996, regarding "the
administration's response" to the Arizona and California initiatives,
a response coming "at the direction of the president," McCaffrey noted
that the "interagency working group" met four times during November
and December 1996. He also notes that "HHS and the Department of
Education will educate the public in both Arizona and California about
the real and proven dangers of smoking marijuana." But there was no
discussion of the multimillion dollar anti-drug media campaign ONDCP
was developing with the assistance of HHS -- and the PDFA.

Not surprisingly, ONDCP critics were dismayed to hear of the
meeting.

Steve Kubby, California's Libertarian Party candidate for governor in
1998, decried a meeting involving "public officials on the public
payroll in a public facility conspiring to commit actions to undermine
an election." The medical marijuana advocate is undergoing prosecution
for alleged marijuana possession with the intent to sell, but he
recently told the Los Angeles Times he was just using marijuana to
combat the effects of adrenal cancer.

Another campaign critic, Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy
Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, observed that Rep. Mica
has held hearings on the lobbying efforts of nonprofit drug reform
groups. "Rep. Bob Barr [R-Ga.] even wanted to prosecute [reform]
advocates under the RICO laws. Does this mean the Republican drug
warriors will investigate the lobbying activities of PDFA?"

Adds Kevin B. Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, "We
see one more example of the drug war going too far, putting the drug
war ahead of democracy. In reality, the drug czar is ginning up
support through a phony grass-roots effort."