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The governor clashed with the DEA chief on the Donahue show.

Gov. Gary Johnson, whose advocacy for drug decriminalization has earned him
national attention, met U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Director Asa
Hutchinson on one of the first broadcasts of the newly revived Phil Donahue
Show Wednesday night.

Johnson joined Donahue through a satellite broadcast from the second floor
of the state Capitol, while Hutchinson beamed in from Washington, D.C.
Donahue's show, broadcast on MSNBC, originates from a studio in New Jersey.

The long-distance format didn't prevent Johnson and Hutchinson from going
head-to-head on issues of drug decriminalization.

Johnson defended the position he has taken for nearly three years,
advocating the decriminalization of illegal drugs. He criticized the
longstanding war on drugs, calling it a "miserable failure" and contending
that it does more harm than good.

As expected, Hutchinson defended the war on drugs, using his array of
statistics: "In the last 20 years, drug use has been reduced by 50
percent," he said.

Johnson began the talk by emphasizing that he doesn't advocate drug use but
favors the regulation of drugs currently deemed illegal.

"What I want to say," he said in his opening comments, "is, don't do drugs.
You're looking at someone who hasn't even had a drink in 15 years - I've
dedicated myself to physical fitness."

"However," he continued, "the war on drugs has been a miserable failure:
1.6 million Americans are jailed each year for drug-related reasons, half
of those people for marijuana and 90 percent of those people for possession

Hutchinson countered, saying, "It's really a myth of the decade that we're
locking up the user. We do not put people in jail for small amounts of
drugs; that's not the priority of the federal government."

Donahue stepped in to add that because of policies like mandatory
sentencing, most users and other people connected loosely with dealers end
up doing time.

Donahue's on-air example of that was Kemba Smith, another guest on the
show. Smith, who carried money for her boyfriend, a drug-dealer, was
sentenced to almost 25 years in prison. She had served six years of her
sentence when she was pardoned by President Clinton.

At the cost of $24,000 a year to house Smith in prison,
decriminalization-advocates argue, this form of punishment for a minor
crime is costly. Johnson said that money could be diverted to fund
treatment instead of paying to keep offenders in prison. Johnson argued
that Smith's example and many others point to the ineffectiveness and
inefficiency of the war on drugs.

"We need to look at this as a health problem," he said, "not as a legal
problem - we need to reduce death, disease, and crime, while providing more
education. We need to put money into treatment."

Johnson cited a recent New Mexico example: "Let me tell you about Maryanne
Velazquez, who from the age of 14 to 40 was addicted to Tylenol with
codeine. She wrote herself over 150 prescriptions during that time. In
1998, she was sentenced to 25 years. That's more than the sentence for rape
or second-degree murder. That's more than two times the sentence for
killing somebody with your car when you're under the influence."

Johnson last month commuted Velazquez's sentence; she had served six years.

Johnson stood firmly by his position that anyone who does drugs and then
hurts someone else as a result should be jailed. "If you do drugs, and then
get behind the wheel of your car, then absolutely, you should be put behind
bars," he said.

It's an issue of harming yourself or harming others, Johnson said.

"Eighty million Americans do illegal drugs," he said. "Right now, 50
percent of the money spent on law enforcement and 50 percent of money spent
on courts go toward drug enforcement," he said.

That money should go to more productive areas like treatment and
rehabilitation, Johnson argued.

Donahue's new show began Monday. During the first week his guests have
included a U.N. weapons inspector with experience in Iraq, the sister of a
CIA agent killed in Afghanistan, Ted Williams' daughter, and the only
senator who voted against an anti-terrorism bill that suspended some civil

Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jul 2002
Source: Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
Copyright: 2002 The Albuquerque Tribune
Contact: letters@abqtrib.com
Website: http://www.abqtrib.com/
Details: Overload Warning
Author: Delaney Hall
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