William J. Bennett, head of the Administration’s war on drugs, said Sunday he believes it is time for the federal government to go after “recreational, yuppie” drug users, saying they share responsibility for “the murder and mayhem in Washington, the fact that we have babies now being born addicted to cocaine” and the killings of Drug Enforcement Administration agents in other countries.
“These people are accessories to all those things, and they need to start paying a price for that,” Bennett said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Bennett, estimating that 70% of the cocaine used in this country is consumed by recreational users, dismissed the idea of enacting tough, mandatory prison sentences for these individuals, saying: “It’s easy to say, but where are you going to put people?”
Would Put Picture in Paper
Instead, he said: “There are other things you can do. Suggestions that have been made to me are: Let’s put their picture in the newspaper. Let’s have a mandatory fine--$5,000 to $10,000. If you’re using cocaine and driving around in your BMW, when you get stopped, you lose your BMW.”
Bennett has moved swiftly to establish his drug war agenda, beginning last week with his effort to persuade President Bush to reverse his earlier opposition to curbing the spread of assault weapons. The Bush Administration acted quickly and imposed an immediate temporary ban on the importation of more than 110,000 AK-47s, Uzi carbines and other semiautomatic weapons until the government decides whether they are suitable for “sporting purposes.”
It appeared Sunday, however, that there are differing views among federal officials involved in the drug war over how far the Administration should move on gun control.
Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh, appearing on ABC’s “This Week With David Brinkley,” seemed to be at odds with Bennett, insisting that “there is a historic and honorable firearms tradition in this country . . . recognized in the Constitution.” Careful study should precede action, he said, warning that “you can’t pass a law and think you’re going to solve the problem.”
But DEA chief John C. Lawn, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” seemed to indicate that he would go far beyond Bennett, preferring a complete ban on all semiautomatic weapons, including those manufactured in the United States.
Downplays Legal Solutions
Thornburgh predicted that the war on drugs will be won “on the battlefield of values” rather than through increased law enforcement or hotly debated controls on assault weapons.
“These battles aren’t going to be won in the courtroom, they’re going to be won in the classroom and the community, in the family and every institution that we have in our society that’s going to face up to the problem of drugs and deal with it squarely and directly,” Thornburgh said.
When asked by CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl whether she was correct in assuming that he wanted semiautomatics “to be banned across-the-board--manufacture, sales, imports, everything,” Lawn replied: “You are.”
Further, Lawn said: “The real crux of the problem about violence in our society, about drug abuse in our society, is that there really is no penalty. Individuals can be arrested, law enforcement personnel can get out and do their job, but because there are no prisons, there is no real fear of incarceration among the criminal element.”
Bennett did not elaborate on what the Bush Administration will recommend in the way of going after drug users, although he said “we’ll propose something, obviously.”
‘Lot of Ideas Out There’
He added: “We’re going to look at all the options. I’ve got a lot of consulting to do. Right now, I’m having a series of meetings with the people out there in the country who are expert on this--meeting with eight or 10 people a day--it’s been three or four times a week, anyway--getting their advice from the law enforcement side and the treatment side. I’m talking to the Hill. There are a lot of ideas out there.”
Washington Mayor Marion Barry, who has denied public allegations that he is a cocaine user, criticized the characterization of Washington as the “murder capital of the country” for its record high drug-related slayings, and suggested that it was the federal government’s responsibility to wipe out the drug business by sending the military to Latin America.
“The national government needs to go to these five or six countries in South and Central America, send the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard,” he said on the ABC program. “Burn up those fields, eradicate those coca leaves, blow up those labs--stop it at the source.”