Speech

Asa Hutchinson
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
National Young Leaders Conference
December 7, 2001
Washington, D.C.

(NOTE: THE ADMINISTRATOR OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS)

photo - Administrator Hutchinson on stage
Administrator Hutchinson discusses drug abuse with over 300 high school students from across the country at the National Press Club.

 

photo - Administrator Hutchinson with students
Administrator Hutchinson with students attending the National Young Leaders Conference.

 

photo - students sitting in the audience
Students listen intently as the
Administrator answers their questions.

Thank you. When I was a Congressman, I always had a small group of you visit me on the Hill. But I'm delighted to be with your entire council this year to discuss an issue that's very important to our nation's future.

As Michele indicated, I'm from Arkansas. I understand that no one else is here from Arkansas, but that you've got a large contingent from New Jersey. Well, since my daughter married someone from New Jersey, I'm very fond of New Jersey these days.

I am delighted to be here. Earlier this year, I started my third term in the United States Congress. I was expecting to continue down that career path, but out of the blue, the President of the United States asked me to head the Drug Enforcement Administration. That came as a little bit of a surprise to me. People ask me why in the world did I take on that responsibility. They ask, "Isn't that an impossible job?"

The first answer is, I took the job because the President asked me to. I'm old fashioned enough to believe that when the President asks you to do something important and good, you ought to do it.

But secondly, I believe drug enforcement is an important aspect of our nation's future. We have to make the right decisions in our drug policy.

So I left the United States Congress. And I'm the only Member of Congress the President asked to serve in his Administration. It's a pleasure to serve under the leadership of President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft. It's also great to be team partners with people like Bob Mueller, who is head of the FBI. I'm very privileged to be at the DEA.

The DEA has about 9,000 employees, half of whom are agents. We have offices in every state of the nation as well as in 56 countries. Our budget is $1.5 billion. To give you a flavor of some of the things we do at the DEA, consider a recent investigation we conducted. Brittney Chambers was a 16-year old girl from Colorado. On her 16th birthday, a friend gave her an Ecstasy pill, which killed her.

The local police investigated her death. It wasn't too difficult to identify the friend who gave her the pill. But the DEA wanted to hold the people further up the chain responsible. So we worked behind the scenes. We looked at where these Ecstasy pills were coming from and we identified the source. We got court authorization for wiretaps. We linked this case back to a major international organization that was smuggling Ecstasy into the United States from the Netherlands. Finally, we indicted over 20 individuals who were responsible at the highest level for distributing Ecstasy that led to the death of Brittney Chambers.

That case is a good example of where the DEA teams up with local law enforcement. We partner with them, do sophisticated intelligence gathering, work internationally, and we bring these cases to the highest level. That's what the Drug Enforcement Administration does.

In another illustration of our international work, we can look at Afghanistan. The DEA has not been stationed in Afghanistan since the 1980s because of the danger. But we're in the neighboring country of Pakistan. We have offices in Peshwar, right on the border of Afghanistan, and in Islamabad. As we see the Taliban regime falling, we want to take advantage of the opportunity to impact a country that produces 70 percent of the world's heroin.

"In the last 15 years, we've reduced cocaine usage by 75 percent. That's 4 million people fewer using cocaine today than 15 years ago. That's a measure of success. Overall drug usage has declined by one-half over the last 20 years. That's a significant amount of success because those 4 million people who are not using drugs could be your family member. Those are lives saved."

Seventy percent of the world's heroin comes from one country-Afghanistan. Most of that is destined for Europe. But we should seize this opportunity in history to have an impact in Afghanistan. As part of an international effort, we could plow under the poppy fields, and thereby reduce that enormous supply. Even though most of the heroin is destined for Europe, it would still impact the United States.

That effort would have an impact on the United States by driving up the price of heroin. And when you drive up the price of heroin, what does it do? It reduces the number of people who will choose heroin abuse as a lifestyle. It's expensive, so they're not able to do it.

The second thing reducing this supply will do, is that the traffickers will have to begin to "cut" the drug further-they will dilute it more to get more product. And so the potency of heroin in the United States goes down. When the potency goes down and the price goes up, you have less usage and fewer deaths as a result. We're working on an international plan to go into Afghanistan to deal with the heroin supply there.

Another part of my responsibilities is that I'm part of the think tank on drug policy in this Administration. I seize the opportunity to debate drug policy with those people who think we're going in the wrong direction.

National Public Radio invited me to go to New Mexico recently to debate Governor Gary Johnson on drug policy. He supports the legalization of marijuana, if not other drugs. I went to the debate, which is not exactly where the political consultants would probably have advised me to go because it was in Governor Johnson's backyard at the University of New Mexico and was not the most friendly audience. But I went because I believe we win the debate when we engage in the issue.

Governor Johnson argues that we're losing the war on the drugs. I do not agree. I think we should look at that from an historical perspective.

In the last 15 years, we've reduced cocaine usage by 75 percent. That's 4 million people fewer using cocaine today than 15 years ago. That's a measure of success. Overall drug usage has declined by one-half over the last 20 years. That's a significant amount of success because those 4 million people who are not using drugs could be your family member. Those are lives that are saved. Clearly, we have reached a plateau, and we've reached a level of frustration because it's a little more difficult to edge the number of drug users down further. But I believe we have the opportunity to make further inroads.

The second thing legalizers argue is if you legalize marijuana, then you will reduce the incarceration rate, the investment we have in law enforcement, and the enforcement efforts along the border. They say that, by legalizing marijuana, you'll profit from taxation of it, and you'll force people away from the criminal side of it.

My response to that is, unless you legalize all drugs, you will not have that economic impact. If you legalize marijuana, is that going to take the Colombian cartels out of the drug business? The Colombian cartels are going to be engaged in cocaine, they're going to be engaged in methamphetamine and heroin trafficking. And so the Colombian and Mexican criminal organizations are still going to be there. You're going to still need the enforcement along the border. The law enforcement component, the treatment component, and all that we invest, will still be necessary.

And then finally, the debate is about the direction you want our country to go. Governor Johnson acknowledges that he does not use marijuana, he does not use cocaine, he does not even use alcohol. Fifteen years ago, he stopped using them because he determined they were a "handicap" to him. A handicap. In other words, they were harmful to a person. And he did not want to be handicapped. I asked him the question, "If you determined these were going to be handicaps to you, why do you want to handicap America's future? Why do you want to handicap our young people in terms of educational success, productivity in industry, and the future of our nation by legalizing and increasing the usage of harmful substances?"

I am happy to engage in that debate. If you thought New Mexico was not a helpful audience to me, after that, Yale Law School invited us to debate there. Yale is a great school, but it is not a conservative school. Nevertheless, I went there, and we had a full audience of students. After Governor Johnson presented his case, I asked the audience how many are in favor of legalizing marijuana. Eighty percent of them raised their hands. The 20 percent that didn't raise their hands were DEA agents. I just wanted to make sure they didn't raise their hands! Clearly, it was a tough audience, but I think we make a difference when we engage in the debate.

I'm delighted for your interest in this issue and your commitment to public policy and making a difference. I believe when you look at drug policy, you're talking about the character of our nation. We need to have a nation that has a strong character, which is why I think drug policy is a very important issue. I look forward to hearing your questions.

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