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Bush shifts drug war focus to reducing demand
President Bush ordered a major shift of emphasis in the war on drugs Thursday, vowing an "unprecedented" and "unwavering commitment" to cut drug demand within the United States.
Bush's determination to target domestic consumption represents a new strategy -- along with treatment and interdiction -- in what he called "an all-out effort to reduce drug use in America."
"The only human and compassionate response to drug use is a moral refusal to accept it," he said.
The president announced the shift in a Rose Garden ceremony while introducing the new director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, John P. Walters, a conservative protege of former drug czar Bill Bennett who believes street-level drug dealers should be incarcerated.
"We must do, and we will do, a better job," Bush said.
During his remarks, the president also declared his unequivocal opposition to the legalization of drugs, which he said would lead to "social catastrophe."
The message of the day at the White House evoked unusually personal overtones -- in part because of Bush's own admitted history of excessive alcohol consumption and the fact that one of his daughters, Jenna, 19, two weeks ago was cited on a charge of alcohol possession by a minor in a bar in Austin, Texas.
At his daily White House briefing, Flesicher was asked if Bush had spoken to Jenna about drinking. He declined to answer, citing a desire by the Bush family for privacy on issues involving their twin daughters.
As for Bush himself, Fleischer did not rule out the possibility that the president may talk about his drinking problems. Bush says he went cold turkey in 1986.
"From his own personal experience, he will tell you that one of the ways he was able to stop drinking overnight was because of the power of faith. He does believe that that can be a very helpful and constructive way to help people who are going through internal issues that require strong discipline and strong faith," Fleischer said.
The spokesman also revealed that all 650 or so highest-ranking White House staffers were drug-tested as a condition of employment -- including Bush and Vice President Cheney, who were the first and second to undergo the tests.
Since that first week of the Bush administration, 127 White House staffers have been subjected to a random drug test program that remains ongoing, he said.
Interdiction has long been a preferred approach in the fight against drugs among Republicans, including former President Bush. And while former first lady Nancy Reagan promoted a "Just Say No" campaign, the current president is backing his initiative with not only tough rhetoric but also additional funding.
"So we'll continue to do the best we can to interdict supplies," Bush said while touring a Northern Virginia community center. "But the best ways to affect supply is to reduce the demand for drugs."
Bush's budget contains a $1.1 billion increase in total spending on the federal drug control effort, to more than $19 billion.
The president said Walters, like his predecessor in the Clinton administration, will enjoy Cabinet-member status.
"A successful anti-drug effort depends on a thoughtful and integrated approach," Bush said, adding that Walters "understands this as well as anybody in America."
While stressing the importance of curbing domestic drug consumption, the president also vowed to "continue to work with nations to eradicate drugs at their source -- and enforce our borders to stop the flow of drugs into America."
Bush said he intends to rally parents to join the cause by creating "a parent drug corps, which will provide needed support to educate and train parents in effective drug prevention." He is seeking $25 million over five years for such a corps.
In addition, Bush said he intends to increase funding for drug-free community programs and drug-free workplace programs. His budget would double funding for local anti-drug coalitions, providing up to $350 million over five years.
The president said he will provide $1.6 billion over the next five years to enhance treatment efforts.
Bush also is directing Attorney General John Ashcroft to devise "a comprehensive plan within 120 days to ensure our federal prisoners are drug-free," and to expand drug-testing for probationers and parolees as well as to strengthen drug courts around the country.
"We know that inmates receiving drug treatment are 73 percent less likely to be re-arrested and 44 percent less likely to use drugs than those who receive no treatment at all," Bush said.
The president also noted that he plans to "significantly increase" funding for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (by $126 million) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (by $41.5 million).
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush opposes the use of medical marijuana.
"There are other effective ways, the president believes, to help people who suffer illnesses so they can be relieved of the pain and the symptoms that they're going through," Fleischer said. "There are other ingredients that can be delivered outside of a marijuana cigarette, for example, to help people who need help and who suffer."