Remarks * of Deputy Attorney General
LARRY D. THOMPSON
To The Weed and Seed Conference
June 17, 2002
At The Fairmont Hotel
New Orleans, Louisiana
Good morning. I would like to start with saying that our prayers go out to Deputy Bennet and family.
When I was asked last year to serve as Deputy Attorney General, one of the things that really inspired me to return to government service was the opportunity to help shape our approach to drugs. It is a privilege to appear before you as part of the Weed & Seed Enforcement Coordination Workshop. "Weed & Seed" is an important program. For the last decade, Weed & Seed has been at the forefront in coupling drug enforcement and demand reduction. I applaud your efforts to reclaim our most challenged neighborhoods. Now we must build on what you have started.
President Bush has clearly defined our goal -- reduce drug use by 25% within the next 5 years. He is the first President to set demand reduction goals. It is only through full coordination that we will achieve this outcome. Seizing one drug load after another or arresting one drug trafficker after another - without more - will not get us there. As we say, "that dog won't hunt." Yet, at the same time, education, treatment, and demand reduction efforts cannot be effective in the presence of cheap, plentiful drugs. The drug problem must be attacked equally on the supply and the demand side.
The best in Weed & Seed, like the Atlanta program being honored here, and others, are the multi-faceted partnerships that go after supply and demand. This takes a combination of community police officers, prosecutors, courts, local government, the faith community, aftercare workers, summer camp coordinators, and a host of others.
That no one person or program can accomplish a real reduction in drug use reminds me of a story I once heard about muhammad ali when he was in the height of his boxing career:
Muhammad Ali was on an airplane and a flight attendant reminded him to fasten his seatbelt.
Ali responded: "Don't you know who I am? I am Superman... and Superman don't need no seatbelt."
The flight attendant quickly retorted: "Superman don't need no airplane neither."
Let's talk a little bit about the supply side. On the supply side, the attorney general and I look to the organized crime drug enforcement task force - "OCDETF" - program as the partnership that is key to our success in reducing drug supply. Like Weed & Seed, OCDETF combines the talent of many professionals to achieve results.
No single law enforcement agency will ever have all the money, agents, or expertise required to take out all levels of the major drug organizations responsible for our Nation's drug supply. But it is precisely that weakness that has become OCDETF's strength.
Let me say a little more about OCDETF - it is tied to Weed & Seed.
The original OCDETF vision of yesterday timelessly remains the model for effective investigations today - - combining the guidance of prosecutors at the front end of investigations with the talent and resources of multiple federal, state and local law enforcement agencies -- all of whom are collaboratively aimed at bringing down well-insulated trafficking organizations which would otherwise be invulnerable to the limited efforts of one agency acting alone. It is that field driven, partnership approach that makes these programs work.
And partnerships in drug law enforcement must work. Americans consume 60% of the world's cocaine. Yet over the past 20 years, cocaine usage has been reduced by 75% and overall drug usage cut by one-half. We are not losing this war.
To continue that success, OCDETF has been refocused to aim at the highest level of drug supply organizations - from the root of their international leadership and money laundering systems, to the branches of their drug distribution cells in cities throughout the United States.
This is where the importance of weed & seed come in. In tightening the OCDETF mission, Weed & Seed has become an even more critical program. It is through programs like Weed & Seed that we maintain focus on rooting out drugs at the local impact level and restoring these ravaged communities by providing the services vital to raising barriers to drugs.
I would be remiss if I did not speak about the events of September 11th being directly related to your efforts. Many of us lost someone or something precious that day. But we also gained something precious. At long last, America's heroes dramatically shifted from drug abusing celebrities to firemen and police officers. The public began to hear "drugs" and "terrorism" in the same breath. Last December, when President Bush spoke about drug free communities, he linked these twin evils when he said, "it's so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror...sustaining terrorists; and that terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder." President Bush went on to challenge Americans, "if you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America."
These public wake-up calls represent great potential for us. Because no amount of drug enforcement will ever be sufficient to eradicate the scourge of drugs until we de-glamorize drug use. The connection between terrorism and drugs is a big step in that direction. A recent survey supports the power of that connection - finding that a majority of teens declared themselves less likely to use drugs knowing about the link between drugs and terrorism.
Any formula for lasting success in our drug enforcement efforts must include Americans viewing themselves as stakeholders in solving the drug problem. This is very important. Rather than simply looking to government, police, schools, and border patrols -- expecting these officials to have the silver bullet. A public groundswell like that of M.A.D.D. -- "Mothers Against Drunk Driving"--is what it will take to turn around the public perceptions fanned by the entertainment industry that drugs are a socially acceptable way of life.
The costs of substance abuse and addiction soared to 400 billion dollars last year. We must resist those who attempt to culturally de-stigmatize drug use. We must recognize drug use for what it is - a crime. We should not soften the blow for those who break the law by somehow excusing drug use as a disease, a personal problem, or some understandable mistake. We simply cannot not tolerate drug use. We must work to educate and prevent drug use before it starts; condemn it when it occurs; and where appropriate, punish those lawbreakers who are involved in it.
Prosecution and sentencing often become the first stage of demand reduction and the direct route for many into coerced treatment. And, from my own experience as the US Attorney in Atlanta, I know that sanctions based demand reduction can save lives.
The terrorists may have taken more than 3,000 souls from us on September 11 - but drug traffickers take at least 16,000 American lives every single year. We have a moral and public imperative to fight and win this struggle for the soul of our communities. The stakes are simply far too high to do anything less. Working with local government, law enforcement and faith based groups to rally communities against the siren call of drugs has been a hallmark of the Weed & Seed strategy for the last ten years. Your work has an even greater urgency now. The Attorney General and I salute everyone in this room for creatively and valiantly fighting the good fight.
Good luck, and keep fighting.
*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.