Asa Hutchinson
Director
Drug Enforcement Administration
Baylor University
Waco, Texas
September 16, 2002
(As Delivered)

Thank you, President Sloan. Members of the faculty, students, and members of the Waco community, thank you for that welcome and thank you for this invitation to speak on our nation's drug policy.

It is good to be on the campus of Baylor University. I have extraordinary respect for this institution, for its history, and the contributions that you make for a better America. I'm pleased that Baylor University has initiated this series of lectures devoted to public leadership. And there certainly is a renewal in public service and an interest in public service after the heroism demonstrated in our fight against terrorism.

The men and women of the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, are examples of the best in public service. Today, DEA agents are in 56 countries. From the jungles of Colombia to the mountains of Afghanistan, the DEA is working courageously to deprive terrorists of drug money that funds violence against the world community. But they also work on our Southwest border and in our neighborhoods to support local law enforcement efforts.

I'm proud of the work that they do, and I also appreciate our law enforcement partners--the Sheriff here, the Chief of Police. Thank you for your support and cooperation with the DEA.

You might be interested to know, students, about the type of individual serving the DEA. One of our new special agents has her Ph.D. in neurobiology. She's serving as an agent in our Philadelphia office. In the new agent class that's right now being trained at our academy in Quantico, Virginia, we have two lawyers. One of them was a state prosecutor in Miami for eight years. We also have a chemical engineer. We have a number of people from military. Almost half the class is fluent in Spanish, one speaks Hebrew, another Hindu--these are very talented people committed to public service, trying to serve our country.

And so I would encourage all the students here tonight to consider a career in public service, whether it's in law enforcement or public office or government or academics, you have an opportunity to live a life of service, to practice your faith in the public arena, such as Daniel, and to improve the lives of others and the life of our country.

As President Sloan mentioned, I'm from Arkansas. And I grew up there, went to school there, and had the great opportunity to represent the Third District of Arkansas in the United States Congress for almost six years. And if anybody's interested in politics, I would encourage you to study my background before I got to Congress, because it's a checkered past. You'll have to learn the art of perseverance, the character trait of perseverance, to succeed in politics. I lost a few political races before I got elected to Congress, in other words.

Whenever you commit yourself, it's a little bit of an uncertain future, but after representing the people of the Third District in Congress, and then President Bush asked me to head up the Drug Enforcement Administration and join his administration, which I was proud to do.

Well, coming from Arkansas, I have an interest in football. And I know that you enjoy your Baylor football. Shane Williams is here, who's on the Baylor team, who's from Arkansas, so there's an Arkansas connection.

I remember one football game Arkansas and Baylor played in October of 1966. President Sloan's probably the only one that remembers that game. It was a big game. It was a home game for Arkansas. Arkansas was the favorite to win. We were ranked number 5 in the nation, and we were on a 24-game winning streak. But it turned out to be a bad day for football--dark skies and heavy rain. And even though both schools were traditionally high-scoring teams, with only four minutes left in the game, the game was scoreless.

Our coach, the legendary--at least he's legendary in Arkansas--Frank Broyles, had decided to play a conservative game. And because of the fear of fumbling, we ultimately punted with four minutes left in the game on third down. We didn't go to fourth down. We punted on third down. As a result, the Bears were able to score the only touchdown of the game and defeat the Razorbacks 7-0. Don't applaud.

Well, it's not just about football. I told that story because there's a connection. It's about attitudes that impact our drug policies here in the United States. Some people today, out of concern that somehow we're not making enough progress in the drug fight on first and second down, they say, let's punt on third down. In my judgment, that doesn't give you enough opportunity for success and to achieve the goals that you wish. They want to give up.

In political leadership, if it's in politics, it takes perseverance; and in our fight against drugs, it takes perseverance. And so the view that we ought to give up and change direction, in my judgment, does not reflect the reality of the current situation or a common-sense view of our efforts.

Tonight I want to talk about America's drug policy.

In many circles today, U.S. drug policy is under attack. It's being criticized by those primarily who favor some type of a legalization agenda, but it's also being challenged by those who say Europe's got a good idea, where they decriminalize drugs or they move toward harm reduction. Harm reduction is where you try to diminish the harm that comes from illegal drug use. Some European cities actually distribute needles to facilitate drug use. They have "injection rooms" in some parts of Europe to facilitate the individual's injection of illegal drugs, to get them off the street. In some ways, that reduces the harm that might come to them because they're off the street. It also reduces the impact on society because you don't see that.

But that's the European model. I think it sells people short, sells hope short. But that is being argued that that's the direction we should go in the United States. And in fact, on the ballot this November in the state of Nevada, there will be an initiative to legalize at the state level up to three ounces of marijuana. Arizona has a similar type of proposition. And so drug policy is on the forefront of issues today that the public has to confront.

This agenda of legalization is perpetuated, in my judgment, by four or five myths that have been promoted by those who seek to change our current policy and myths that are believed by some because they have lost hope. I want to examine some of these myths for a few moments tonight.

The first myth is there has been no progress in our fight against drugs. Sometimes you hear it expressed in a little bit harsher tones, that the drug war is a miserable failure. Well, former United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick once said "Americans need to face the truth about themselves, no matter how pleasant it is." And so we face the truth about ourselves, we find that there is some pleasant news.

First, on the demand side, we've reduced casual use, chronic use, and prevent others from even starting. Overall drug use in the United States is down by half since the late 1970s. That's nine and a half million people fewer using drugs today on a regular basis than 20 years ago. When it comes to cocaine use, we've reduced cocaine use by an astounding 70 percent during the last 15 years. That's over four million people fewer using cocaine on a regular basis today than 15 years ago. Those numbers represent real lives. Those are people in our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities.

And you know, if we achieved that kind of success on any other social problem, from domestic violence to child abuse, someone would receive the Medal of Freedom because they did such a good job. But somehow, we judge our progress against this social problem of drugs by a different standard, and we've bought into the idea of where is the victory, where is the win, when in fact you have to have perseverance. Because as long as you have depression in society, as long as you have greed and, quite frankly, as long as you have teenagers, you're going to have a battle with illegal substances. And so every generation has to face this, and we have to persevere.

Because we've made progress doesn't mean that we should all clap our hands and say the battle is over. We have still much progress to make. We're concerned with emerging drug treats like Ecstasy--80 percent of which comes from the Netherlands, by the way; and methamphetamine, some of which is manufactured in our back yard. The fact is that our current policy, balancing prevention, enforcement of our laws, with treatment, have kept drug usage outside the scope of acceptable behavior in the United States.

To put it in perspective, less than 5 percent of the population uses illegal drugs of any kind. That's less than 16 million users of all forms of illegal drugs. Contrast that to the fact that on tobacco there are 66 million users, and with alcohol there are 109 million users. And so it is 16 million on illegal drugs, 109 million alcohol users. And so that, to me, is a successful policy when you have less than 5 percent of the population using illegal drugs of any form.

Drug policy also has an impact on general crime. A European study found violent crime and property crime increased in the late 1990s in every wealthy country--in every wealth country except the United States. And I think our effective drug policy had something to do with that.

If you look at the European model of decriminalization that I mentioned, I think that there are some signals that is not turning out the way they hoped.

In the Netherlands, you can actually go on a drug vacation, where you can go into Amsterdam, you can go into a--don't take notes on this part, students. You can go into a coffee shop, you can buy all kinds of marijuana and it is legal. But if you go into the red light district, which I did with the chief of police, a law enforcement officer, a DEA agent, and it is so open in terms of drug use that people came up to our group with law enforcement presence and said, "Do you want to buy Ecstasy?" "Do you want to buy methamphetamine? Do you want to buy heroin?"

And so legalization in part led to an open policy in many arenas of drugs in that country. As a result, the Dutch are thinking about reversing some of the direction of the liberal approach of the last few years.

And so we have had success, and the European direction I don't think is the right way to go.

The DEA, though, is involved in the enforcement side. We enforce our laws. We go after the drug trafficking organizations. And some of you might say, well, we're really not having any success in putting the traffickers out of business. Well, let's examine this for just a moment.

First of all, our responsibility is to increase the risk to the traffickers and, to the extent that we can, to reduce the availability of drugs on the street. I think we have had some success. Since September 11 a year ago now--we've had an increase of law enforcement presence on the border and in the airports. The result has been an increase in drug seizures. Customs officials seized more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine along the border in the last six months, almost twice as much as the same period in the last year. In McAllen, Texas, seizures of methamphetamine are up 425 percent. In Laredo, heroin seizures are up 172 percent. Enforcement makes a difference, along the border and in the airports. And the costs and the risks to traffickers go up.

Let me give you a couple of illustrations of what we do in the DEA. Brittney Chambers was a 16-year-old student in Colorado. On her 16th birthday, her friend gave her one Ecstasy pill. That night, her body temperature heated up to over 105 degrees. She started drinking water. She ultimately drowned herself as a result of her body temperature and taking that Ecstasy pill.

The next day, the headline in the Denver newspaper was, "Tainted Ecstasy Pill Kills Youth." What's wrong with that headline? The implication is that if it was not a tainted Ecstasy pill, if it was pure Ecstasy, everything would have been fine that night. The subtle messages do make a difference in the public's attitude.

Well, they came to the DEA, said what can you do about this? Obviously, it was clear who actually had given that pill to Brittney Chambers. We took that case. We combined it with a law enforcement stop in Utah, another one in California. All of these different pills that we seized at that time had the same logo, a green clover. And so we knew that they were coming from the same source. We used our wiretap capability. We identified John Sposit as the source that was bringing these Ecstasy pills in from New York, ultimately from the Netherlands. And we made that case, a local case, and brought it to the highest levels of international traffickers. That made a difference in the community of Denver, Colorado, but it also makes a difference in the international arena.

In addition, you look at Carlos Bolas. I'll never forget last March, I stood with the Attorney General of the United States announcing the indictment for the first time in history of two terrorist leaders for drug trafficking--Carlos Bolas and Tomas Molinas. These are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the terrorist organization called the FARC. We looked at each other after we made that announcement--it's nice to indict these guys, but we'll probably never get them.

It's a little bit different for a law enforcement operation, they're surrounded by 16,000 armed combatants in the jungles of Colombia. It's not the usual law enforcement operation to go out and get them. But one of our crack DEA agents found out that someone was going to Surinam under a fictitious name, followed them there, did some good law enforcement work, found out that it was a fictitious name, that the person was really Carlos Bolas, the terrorist leader, who was in Surinam.

I sent DEA's plane down to Surinam, to sit on the runway there. Law enforcement went in and made the arrest of Carlos Bolas. Within two hours, he was on the plane, headed back to Washington, D.C. He's in a jail cell there now. And so he was charged with bringing hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States.

I tell those two stories because it illustrates what the DEA does supporting law enforcement here in the United States and overseas and the difference it makes. It tells every trafficker there's a risk in doing business, and it also increases the costs to them. And it reduces the availability of those drugs in the United States, whether it's the Ecstasy on the streets of Denver or whether it's the cocaine that comes from South America.

As a result of that, we have reduced the cocaine that comes in the United States by 100 metric tons over the last five years. So don't let anyone tell you we have not had success in our fight against drugs. The failure argument is simply nonsense. There is success.

The second myth that they always try to perpetuate is that somehow we're always locking up the users and our prisons are filled with those that are simple users and possessors of drugs. Have you ever heard that? Well, let's look at the real facts.

In federal prison, if you look at all the drug cases in federal prison, 95 percent of the drug cases are for trafficking offenses. And the 5 percent that are for drug offenses are usually those that are plea bargained down or they're convicted of multiple offenses. In federal prison, clearly, they are for trafficking. In my experience as a federal prosecutor, you have to work very hard in the United States to get to jail for simply using illegal drugs.

Now, that doesn't mean there shouldn't be accountability. If you're arrested for possession of marijuana, you ought to go to court, you pay a fine, there's accountability. It's a criminal record that will go with you for a lifetime. There's a consequence to illegal drug use. But the fact is, we are not locking up and sending to prison those people who are convicted of simple possession of drugs.

The Michigan Department of Corrections just completed a study of their inmate population. Let me tell you what they found in the state of Michigan. They found that the state had a total inmate population of 47,000. Out of that, 500 were incarcerated on simple drug possession charges. Only 500 out of 47,000. And of those, most of those, again, had been charged with multiple offenses, or pled down. A very, very small percent ever go to jail for possession offenses. And so it is nonsense, that "our jails are filled with casual users."

The third myth that has been perpetuated in society today is that marijuana is not harmful. Well, young people need to be told the honest risks, because risks, and the understanding of those risks, discourage use. And the fact is that 225,000 Americans seek treatment each year because of marijuana addiction. More teens are in treatment for marijuana addiction than any other illegal drug, including alcohol.

Why do they go to treatment for marijuana? It's because it is a harmful substance that has an addiction capability in which they see a need in their own life for treatment. Marijuana is harmful in and of itself, but also it, in some instances, leads to other drug use.

Dr. Fletcher Brothers runs a Freedom Village, a faith-based organization that is the largest privately owned home for troubled teenagers in the country. And Dr. Brothers has been doing that for three decades. He's seen a lot of teens mess up their lives. And this is what he had to say about marijuana: "Never once, after dealing with thousands and thousands of addicts, have I ever dealt with a heroin addict, a cocaine addict, or anybody else that didn't start with marijuana."

Marijuana is harmful in and of itself, but it is a start of a lifetime of drug problems in some instances.

I know that some of you are thinking, well, how about medical marijuana? Well, let me just caution you to think clearly about this. How do we in our society determine what is good medicine and bad medicine? We have a rigorous approval process that is peer reviewed, that is determined by the scientific and medical community. Does the American Medical Association say that smoking marijuana has a medical benefit and doctors ought to prescribe to a sick patient smoking marijuana? The American Medical Association does not say that. They have supported continued regulation and prohibition on smoking marijuana. They do not recognize it as any medical benefit. And the same thing is true for the federal Food and Drug Administration. Whenever you talk about marijuana, we have to go through that same scientific medical review process, and we listen to them.

Now, there is some medical benefit to an active ingredient in marijuana, and that active ingredient is synthesized into Marinol, and it is actually prescribed by doctors. If there's any need, a doctor can prescribe it in pill form, called Marinol. But that's not enough for those people in some states who say, we want to smoke our marijuana. And that's simply the motivation. It is a legalization argument that they're making, and they're using the cloak of medical marijuana to get to their real agenda of legalization.

The fourth myth is that there's not any new ideas in our fight against drugs. I'm pleased to say that there are a lot of new ideas out there that are working. One of them is what I believe is a very effective treatment program for nonviolent individuals who have an addiction problem and a crime problem. And that is called drug treatment courts, where you can go instead of going into prison when you have an addiction problem. You go into a treatment program with accountability--where you have drug testing, you have to go through a rigorous treatment program, reporting to the court. And if you don't move successfully through that program, you can have the threat of going to jail.

That has resulted in a 70 percent success rate. And this is a new idea that is expanding. We have drug treatment courts in Texas. They need to be expanded. President Bush has invested in these. But I've gone across the nation talking about drug treatment courts and how they're successful. They make a difference in the lives of individuals.

Jennifer Malloy, in Youngstown, Ohio, was a graduate of a drug treatment court. I was there in the courtroom. I listened to her story. And she was crack addict. She had a college degree, she was a professional, but she got addicted. And when she did that, she started committing crimes in order to support her addiction. She went into voluntary treatment programs. Voluntary treatment programs did not work. Her family intervened with her, and that did not work. Finally, she was arrested. And sitting in jail she knew, finally came face-to-face with the fact, that she needed treatment. She goes into the drug court program. And there, for a year, she went through this rigorous program and graduated. She was restored to her family. She has a job. And on her graduation day, she had her charges dismissed. And she looked to the judge and said, "I want to hug you." And she hugged the judge. And then she turned to her arresting officer and said, "Thank you for saving my life."

I tell that story because it connects what we do in law enforcement with the other side of what we're trying to do in the anti-drug arena. And that is to increase the treatment of individuals to get over addiction problems. They tie together. They're not in opposition to each other.

How do we win this battle? Well, it's simple--simple, but it's long and it takes a lot of perseverance. You win by not retreating. Victory can only be achieved one life at a time. That means there are new lives to be influenced every day, and that's one of the greatest rewards of public service.

Americans should never forget the story of Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis and the Alamo. On February 24, 1836, when he and his men were at the Alamo under attack, he wrote this letter: "To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world. I am besieged by Santa Ana and his forces. The enemy has demanded a surrender. Otherwise, we are to be put to the sword. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot. I shall never surrender or retreat."

And then he said this: "I call upon you, in the name of liberty, patriotism, and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid."

Ladies and gentlemen, in fighting against drugs in our country, it is my view that we should not surrender. We should not give in. We should not punt on third down. Doing so would be giving up an opportunity for success, of making our country better, stronger, and freer. And in doing so, I believe that we'll strengthen that American character that was so important in 1836, that American character that is so important today, and that American character that will be so important to the next generation of America.

Thank you for what you're doing at Baylor University to strengthen the American character.

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