From the moment he arrived in Alaska to campaign against legal marijuana in the state, drug czar William Bennett found himself defending his trip, wading past protesters and finally leaving a hostile crowd by speeding off in a chauffeur-driven limousine seized from cocaine dealers.
At an anti-drug meeting Thursday night sponsored by Alaskans for Drug-Free Youth, Bennett's entourage of U.S. Marshal security personnel appeared to outnumber his supporters in the audience. A largely pro-marijuana crowd dominated the meeting, giving Bennett a hard time from start to finish.But the mostly unruffled drug czar accepted an invitation to pat his head to show he had no horns and calmly explained that he came north hoping to convince Alaskans to outlaw marijuana in a Nov. 6 vote.
Bennnett arrived late Thursday for a 24-hour anti-marijuana blitz, giving two speeches urging Alaskans to vote for a ballot initiative recriminalizing marijuana and holding a news conferences before heading to a more friendly reception by supporters, driving off in a bright burgundy 1939 Chevy Classic stretch limo seized by drug agents from a convicted cocaine trafficker.
Bennett's ride in the limo was its first use since a state drug unit took the car away from a drug dealer. The limousine was part of a six-car security convoy, and Bennett remarked that he received death threats every day and welcomed the show of force protecting him.
Marijuana became legal in Alaska in 1975 when a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled that Alaska's constitutional right to privacy outweighed society's interest in prohibiting adults from having marijuana at home.
President Bush's number one drug fighter said America was suffering a drug epidemic. He said crack cocaine and cocaine were the worst drugs, but "here in Alaska, the issue is marijuana, which for 15 years has been legal for possession and use by adults in their homes in quantities up to 4 ounces.
"Proposition 2 would restore the sanctions of law against marijuana in any amount. I'm here to add my voice to the voices of thousands of Alaskans in favor of this proposition."
If voters support the measure, pot possession will become a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.
Bennett opponents lined up at the microphone at the drug-free town meeting to criticize the drug czar for telling Alaskans how to run their lives. Several said alcohol and tobacco were far more dangerous than marijuana. Some said outlawing pot would create a black market and lead to widespread arrests.
"If the citizens of Alaska decide to vote against Proposition 2 (outlawing marijuana), then it's OK. I hope they don't. But you do live in a democracy. You don't live under a czar," he said.
Bennett predicted that if Alaskans vote to keep marijuana legal, "you will see more efforts by indiviuduals who do not like what is going on in the other 49 (states) coming to Alaska and smoking marijuana. It will increase the population who want to get into the drug culture."
Bennett denied critics' claims that pot was harmless, saying it was more dangerous now than when Alaska legalized it.
No crackdown of marijuana would follow if voters criminalize it, Bennett said. "Whether the state of Alaska decides to prosecute one person or none, I think that matters less than the message we send."
A pause for a cause
At least 500,000 people around Connecticut paused for five minutes Thursday, halting schools, offices and factories in a massive protest against drug and alcohol abuse, organizers said.
Dubbed, "The Moment, Drugs Don't Work," the statewide demonstration focused on a symbolic shutdown of many operations between 10:55 and 11 a.m. to bring attention to substance abuse.
Steve Gaynes, a spokesman for the Governor's Partnership to Prevent Substance Abuse in the Workplace, said at least a half-million people took part in the "pause." The effort cost about $150,000 to organize and promote.