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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S.
SENATE

Campbell Urges Broad Approach to Drug War

Challenger calls for rehab treatment programs for users and stiff penalties for dealers, including death for adults selling to children.

September 19, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell moved Monday to counter the suggestion that he is soft on drugs by proposing a sweeping combination of treatment programs for users and stiff punishments for dealers--including the death penalty for adults selling narcotics to children.

In what may prove to be the most important gambit of his campaign, the San Jose congressman used an appearance in incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein's home city to answer criticism of his willingness to allow a government experiment in drug distribution. He believes such a program could reduce addiction and narcotics-related crime--a position that has drawn fire from Feinstein and some of Campbell's own Republican colleagues.

Speaking to about 100 people at the Commonwealth Club, a nonpartisan civic affairs group, Campbell did not back away from that proposal but said his view has been misunderstood or misrepresented.

"I do not propose that we quit the war on drugs," Campbell said. "I propose we win it.

"If a locality wants to permit government health centers where doctors prescribe and administer on premises some of the depressant drugs to adults already addicted, at a minimum that's better than the addict buying the drug off the street, where the dosage can kill and the profit goes to the pusher," he said.

His plan, Campbell said, would include tougher penalties for drug pushers, including the death penalty for any adult knowingly selling heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines to children under 12. In addition, he said, he would increase anti-drug programs for children, launch new drug testing and treatment programs in prisons and greatly expand treatment programs throughout the United States, using the $1.3 billion earmarked for fighting drug lords in Colombia.

"There are 2.8 million addicts in America in need of treatment who cannot get it," he said, citing a report by national drug czar Barry McCaffrey.

Campbell said his approach mirrors the priorities of former President Richard Nixon, who launched the "war on drugs" 30 years ago. Like Nixon, Campbell said he believes the U.S. must focus on reducing the demand for drugs, not chasing the supplies.

"In the Nixon administration, two-thirds of the original money for the war on drugs was directed to treatment, to help those users to reduce demands," he said. "Early on, records were set in dropping drug-related arrests, dropping crime rates and increased numbers of addicts receiving treatment."

Today, with drug overdoses and drug arrests on the rise, less than $4 billion of the nation's $19 billion in anti-drug programs goes to treatment, he said.

The speech received an enthusiastic response from a crowd that included San Francisco's liberal Dist. Atty. Terrence Hallinan, who said his own concerns about the nation's anti-drug policies might lead him to endorse Campbell.

Feinstein's campaign continued to question Campbell's proposals.

"With all the efforts [made] to combat drugs, we believe you send the wrong signal when you say that in California, we will give away heroin," said Feinstein's campaign manager, Kam Kuwata.

"Sen. Feinstein believes . . . it is not an either/or" of drug treatment or enforcement, Kuwata added. "Our view has been that not only do you need to vote for interdiction funding, you ought to be doggedly pushing the federal government to make interdiction programs more successful" and support treatment programs, he said.

Others questioned the logic of focusing on this topic when California voters have made so many others--education and health care, for example--higher priorities.

"I think [voters] have been telling us pretty consistently what they are most interested in, and I think there's danger focusing on other issues that they are not," said Mark Baldassare, executive director of the Public Policy Institute of California.

With a new institute poll showing Feinstein ahead of Campbell by 17 points less than two months from election day, Baldassare said he did not see how the drug debate would help the congressman make up adequate ground.

"I don't think it gets him far enough in terms of what he has to do," Baldassare said.

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