FRESNO — Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston may be talking tough against drugs today, but this is an "enormous flip-flop" from a decade ago when he was pushing to decriminalize marijuana as "socially acceptable," Republican challenger Ed Zschau complained Tuesday.
After a couple of weeks of on-again, off-again campaigning against Cranston characterizing him as soft on drugs, Zschau sharpened his attack by focusing on the senator's efforts in the 1970s on behalf of marijuana smokers.
"I read in the newspapers that Alan Cranston is now interested in doing something about drugs. It's like Rip van Winkle has awoken after 18 years of sleep," Zschau said at press conferences here and in San Diego and Sacramento.
"And now, in order to show how energetic he is, he's demonstrated an enormous flip-flop on drugs. He says we've got to fight the dangerous lure of narcotics. This comes from the same man who in 1975 introduced legislation to legalize marijuana, saying it was really important to make our system of justice work."
Zschau, a congressman from Los Altos, renewed his challenge for a face-to-face televised debate with Cranston to discuss issues like drugs.
In a statement released by his campaign, Cranston responded:
"I suspect it will surprise Mr. Zschau to learn that current marijuana law in California is the same as the bill I introduced with Sen. (Jacob) Javits (R-New York) in 1975. Under that bill, which did not pass, all of the penalties against people who sell marijuana or possess an ounce or more would have remained in full force.
"The bill provided for a civil fine for the personal use of less than one ounce of marijuana instead of having young people carrying the stigma for the rest of their lives. The bill was also intended to focus law enforcement on the pushers and on those using large amounts of drugs. In 1976 this policy became the law in California and it is still the law."
But Zschau said he thinks the California law is too lenient. "We've got to make it unacceptable to use drugs," he said.
A memo to Zschau from his campaign researchers described the marijuana bill and Cranston's explanatory 1975 remarks in the Congressional Record as "the possible smoking gun you've been looking for."
In the April 18, 1975, Congressional Record, Cranston submitted a speech upon the introduction of his bill. The quotations were provided by the Zschau campaign.
"Any risk to the user (of marijuana) falls within the ambit of choice the informed individual should be allowed in a free society," Cranston said.
"The time has come," he continued, "for Congress to legislate like it is. When we brand as 'criminal' private behavior which has become socially acceptable we undermine the credibility of law and justice in our nation."
Later Tuesday, a Zschau aide said that Cranston had introduced a bill to eliminate marijuana penalties in 1975 and again in 1977.
Both Zschau and Cranston have traveled California recently to try and connect politically with the new national focus on drugs, spawned by some celebrity drug deaths and the attention of President and Mrs. Reagan.
Cranston has attempted to portray himself as a "doer" on the issue, who has successfully sponsored Senate-passed legislation to crack down on so-called designer drugs, the products of sophisticated illicit chemists. "No bill that Ed Zschau introduced ever passed the House of Representatives," a Cranston aide said.
Zschau has cast himself as someone who has a strong anti-drug record. But he has spent most of his time criticizing Cranston as being a "noncombatant in the war on drugs."