Fact-checking Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey

By Terrapinzflyer · Oct 26, 2009 · Updated Oct 26, 2009 ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Fact-checking Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey

    I appeared on the CNN program Lou Dobbs Tonight last Thursday (Oct. 22) to discuss the medical marijuana issue and the drug war in general. There were two other guests: Peter Moskos from John Jay College and the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and Barry McCaffrey, retired General of the U.S. Army and former “Drug Czar” under President Bill Clinton.

    I was really astonished by the doubletalk coming from McCaffrey. Watch the clip below and then I’ll explain two of the worst examples so you can come to your own conclusions about this guy.

    Doubletalk: Example One:

    Tim Lynch: “Some states have changed their marijuana laws to allow patients who are suffering from cancer and AIDS–people who want to use marijuana for medical reasons–they’re exempt from the law. But there’s a clash between the laws of the state governments and the federal government. The federal government has come in and said, ‘We’re going to threaten people with federal prosecution, bring them into federal court.’ And what the (new memo from the Obama Justice Department) does this week is change federal policy. Basically, Attorney General Eric Holder is saying, ‘Look, for people, genuine patients–people suffering from cancer, people suffering from AIDS–these people are now off limits to federal prosecutors.’ It’s a very small step in the direction of reform.”

    Now comes Barry McCaffrey: “There is zero truth to the fact that the Drug Enforcement Administration or any other federal law enforcement ever threatened care-givers or individual patients. That’s fantasy!”

    Zero truth? Fantasy? This report from USA Today tells the story of several patients who were harassed and threatened by federal agents. Excerpt: ”In August 2002, federal agents seized six plants from [Diane] Monson’s home and destroyed them.”

    This report from the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story of Bryan Epis and Ed Rosenthal. Both men, in separate incidents, were raided, arrested, and prosecuted by federal officials. The feds called them “drug dealers.” When the cases came to trial, both men were eager to inform their juries about the actual circumstances surrounding their cases–but they were not allowed to convey those circumstances to jurors. Federal prosecutors insisted that information concerning the medical aspect of marijuana was “irrelevant.” Both men were convicted and jailed.

    This report from the New York Times tells readers about the death of Peter McWilliams. The feds said he was a “drug dealer.” McWilliams also wanted to tell his story to a jury, but pled guilty when the judge told him he would not be allowed to inform the jury of his medical condition. Excerpt: “At his death, Mr. McWilliams was waiting to be sentenced in federal court after being convicted of having conspired to possess, manufacture and sell marijuana…. They pleaded guilty to the charge last year after United States District Judge George H. King ruled that they could not use California’s medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, as a defense, or even tell the jury of the initiative’s existence and their own medical conditions.” The late William F. Buckley wrote about McWilliams’ case here.

    Imagine what Diane Monson, Bryan Epis, Ed Rosenthal, and Peter McWilliams (and others) would have thought had they seen a former top official claim that federal officials never threatened patients or caregivers?!

    Doubletalk: Example Two:

    Tim Lynch: “After California changed its laws to allow the medical use of marijuana, [General Barry McCaffrey] was the Drug Czar at the time and he came in taking a very hard line. The Clinton administration’s position was that they were going to threaten doctors simply for discussing the pros and cons of using marijuana with their patients. That policy was fought over in the courts and [the Clinton/McCaffrey] policy was later declared illegal and unconstitutional for violating the free speech of doctors and for interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. This was the ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case called Conant – “C-O-N-A-N-T.”

    Lou Dobbs: “The ruling stood in the Ninth Circuit?”

    Tim Lynch: “Yes, it did.”

    Now comes Barry McCaffrey: “That’s all nonsense!”

    Nonsense? Really?

    Go here to read the New York Times story about McCaffrey’s hard-line policy.

    The Conant ruling can be found here. The name of the case was initially Conant v. McCaffrey, but as the months passed and the case worked its way up to the appeals court, the case was renamed Conant v. Walters because Bush entered the White House and he appointed his own drug czar, John Walters, who maintained the hard line policy initiated by Clinton and McCaffrey.

    I should also mention that Conant was not an obscure case that McCaffrey could have somehow ”missed.” Here’s a snippet from another New York Times report: “The Supreme Court, in a silent rebuff on Tuesday to federal policy on medical marijuana, let stand an appeals court ruling that doctors may not be investigated, threatened or punished by federal regulators for recommending marijuana as a medical treatment for their patients.” The point here is that the case was covered by major media as it unfolded.

    When our television segment concluded, Lou Dobbs asked me some follow-up questions and asked me to supply additional info to one of his producers, which I was happy to do.

    Whatever one’s view happens to be on drug policy, the historical record is there for any fair-minded person to see — and yet McCaffrey looked right into the camera and denied past actions by himself and other federal agents. And he didn’t say, “I think that’s wrong” or “I don’t remember it that way.” He baldly asserted that my recounting of the facts was “nonsense.” Now I suppose some will say that falsehoods are spoken on TV fairly often–maybe, I’m not sure–but it is distressing that this character held the posts that he did and that he continues to instruct cadets at West Point!

    My fellow panelist, Peter Moskos, has a related blog post here and he had a good piece published in the Washington Post just yesterday. For more Cato scholarship on drug policy, go here.

    video of story uploaded to Video Archive


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