SACRAMENTO — Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, California's top crime fighter, took on a slippery new villain Tuesday--Zonker, the fictional hippie of "Doonesbury" fame.
Lungren, who insists that he enjoys a good laugh as much as the next guy, attacked Zonker and his creator, Garry Trudeau, for contributing to a "permissive attitude" toward drug use with this week's cartoons.
"I appreciate political satire," Lungren said at a Capitol news conference, "but I think I know when a line has been crossed. And this is one of those times."
In a series of strips continuing through Saturday, "Doonesbury" explores the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, an issue that California voters will address when they decide the fate of Proposition 215 in November.
In Monday's cartoon, Zonker learns of a recent raid by state narcotics agents on a San Francisco organization that gave marijuana to the terminally ill. On Tuesday, he finds out that it was Lungren who ordered the bust:
"The local cops wouldn't do it," Zonker's friend, Cornell, tells him, "so they had to bring in the Republicans."
Zonker: Republicans? Are you sure?
Cornell: Who else would raid a sanctuary for dying AIDS and cancer patients?
Zonker: Democrats. It's an election year.
Cornell: Well, OK. But they wouldn't use a battering ram.
Clearly rankled by the cartoons, Lungren charged that Trudeau's satire lends "credibility to a criminal enterprise" and treats lightly the "skyrocketing" problem of drug use.
He said the target of the bust--the Cannabis Buyers' Club--was dispensing marijuana to teenagers with no medical need and to adults with forged doctors' notes.
He also charged that patients with minor complaints--such as insomnia and vaginal yeast infections--received marijuana despite rules limiting prescriptions to more serious ailments.
"There were 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds buying [marijuana] in that club," said Lungren, who displayed undercover photographs to support his claim. "Ladies and gentlemen, that is not a laughing matter."
There have been no arrests, but Lungren said the investigation is continuing.
Dennis Peron, the club's founder, denied Lungren's charges, but said four teenagers suffering from leukemia were obtaining marijuana from the marijuana emporium with their parents' permission.
"This is about love and compassion," Peron said. "Why doesn't he help these kids with cancer instead of vilifying them?"
Peron also called Lungren's attack silly and "below the dignity of the attorney general's office.
" 'Doonesbury' spoofs everybody," he said. "You don't see the president up there crying and telling Trudeau to knock it off."
In a letter sent Tuesday to Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes "Doonesbury" to 1,400 newspapers, Lungren asks that the comic strip be canceled--or accompanied by a disclaimer stating "the known facts" about the raid.
Citing surveys showing an increase in drug use among teenagers, Lungren scolded Trudeau for advancing "the wink-and-nod attitude" toward drugs that he believes is predominant today.
Trudeau could not be reached for comment. But officials at Universal said there would be no disclaimer.
Lungren also sent letters to nine California newspapers, asking editors to withhold the strip.
Narda Zacchino, associate editor and vice president of the Los Angeles Times, said The Times would not cancel "Doonesbury," noting that it touches on a subject relevant to Californians--Proposition 215, which would permit the growing and smoking of marijuana for medicinal use.
"The initiative is on the California ballot and is a legitimate matter for the rough and tumble of public debate, including the 'Doonesbury' cartoons," Zacchino said. "We are going to continue running the strips."
Lungren is the latest of several California politicians to be lampooned in "Doonesbury." Former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. has been a favorite Trudeau target, as was Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), guru of the self-esteem movement.
Universal's editorial director, Lee Salem, said it is rare for an elected official to complain about the strip. Usually, he said, "They are wise enough to laugh it off and go on with life."