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Published: Wednesday, 3/13/2002

Drug czar hears call for law change

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON - The nation's new drug czar said yesterday that the Bush administration is doing a thorough review of the concept of mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession and drug use, including crack cocaine and powder.

John Walters said a motivation for the review is to try to find a way to accelerate the process of sorting out violent offenders from users of drugs who may need treatment more than a 10-year mandatory minimum jail term. In office since December, he is a former deputy to William Bennett, drug czar in the George H.W. Bush administration.

Critics argue that laws that take away judges' leeway in sentencing are filling the nation's jails with prisoners who often aren't a threat to society, but who leave prison as hardened criminals or still addicted. They say drug use is a major cause of recidivism.

Mr. Walters said that while concerns exist among officials about mandatory minimum sentences, “any serious look at the prison population shows that most [people] incarcerated in state prisons are violent.''

Nonetheless, many judges are rebelling at the mandatory minimum sentences they must impose even if they think such lengthy terms are counter-productive, especially for young offenders.

Mr. Walters also defends the administration's controversial drug ads, first aired during the Super Bowl, which link even casual use of illegal drugs such as marijuana to support for terrorism, based on involvement of many terrorist groups in illegal drugs.

He said such ads are some of the “most powerful and effective prevention messages'' ever released by the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.

President Bush announced his national drug control strategy a month ago, saying he wants to reduce the use of illegal drugs by 10 percent over two years and 25 percent over five years. He wants to spend $19.2 billion for drug control in 2003. That includes a 6 percent increase for drug treatment compared with 2002.



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