Drug Warrior William Bennett reared his ugly head this week to warn us about the dangers of cannabis legalization. The former Secretary of Education and Office of National Drug Control Policy chief wrote an op-ed “My Turn: 3 lies the pro-marijuana side is pushing about Prop. 205” in the Arizonan press in an effort to encourage the state to vote against legalizing recreational cannabis.
According to Bennett, the three so-called lies are as follows: 1) legalization will reduce black market sales, 2) cannabis is safer than alcohol and 3) the tax revenue will help schools. He claims these are all lies, and PRØHBTD would attempt to analyze the data he used to prove his points (as we did in the past here and here and here with other prohibitionists), but this op-ed is heavy on opinion and light on facts and figures. Rather, he offers criticisms like the $30 million raised by cannabis-related tax revenue and given to schools over the first three years is “a drop in the bucket,” meaning it won’t be enough to make a difference to the state’s 2,000 public schools.
The criticism that $30 million won’t help is an opinion, and it is an ironic opinion at that considering headlines like “Senators Assail Bennett on Education Cut” from the LA Times in 1987. As Education Secretary, Bennett defended a 30 percent cut in federal aid to education, which Republican Senator Pete Domenici called “a giant step backward” and Democratic Senator Lawton Chiles described as a way to make America “lead-pipe last” in education. Speaking directly to Bennett, Senator J. Exon stated, “I wish you were as strong an advocate for education as Secretary Weinberger is for defense."
Sure, a $30 million boost to schools doesn’t seem like much to the man who cut billions from education, but his views on the Drug War go even further, drawing comparisons to Islamic extremists. Bennett, who wanted habeas corpus rights stripped from drug dealers, said it was “morally plausible” to behead American citizens who sold drugs like cannabis. Bennett also wanted to regulate rap music and pushed for teaching abstinence education. And speaking of unwanted pregnancies, he once said on his radio program, "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were the sole purpose—you could abort every black baby in this country and the crime rate would go down."
Then there is the issue of Bennett’s own addiction. In 2003, the New York Times published “Relentless Moral Crusader Is Relentless Gambler, Too” that highlighted how Bennett makes $50,000/speech to rail against “sins” like cannabis smoking, but The Book of Virtues author lost more than $8 million gambling in Las Vegas. That same year, the Washington Monthly story “The Bookie of Virtue” noted that Bennett denied he had a gambling problem, adding, “I view it as drinking. If you can’t handle it, don’t do it.”
An ironic comment, is it not?
Now back to the op-ed. Arizonans who read his prohibitionist rant will see the bio line, “William J. Bennett is the former U.S. secretary of education and the first director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.” These titles give the impression that Bennett is someone whose words should carry weight, but many people—including educators—would argue that’s not the case.
“[Bennett] is a preacher, not a teacher,” said Bard College president Leon Botstein to the New York Times in 1985. “He is trying to manipulate public opinion to accept his ideas of what is right and wrong.”
More than thirty years later, this characterization still fits.