Asa Hutchinson
Drug Enforcement Administration
Conservative Political Action Conference
Arlington, Virginia
February 1, 2002

“Drugs and Terrorism”

photo - President Bush
George W. Bush


photo - U.S. Senate
U.S. Senate


photo - President Reagan
Ronald Reagan


photo - Air Force One
Air Force One


photo - World Trade Center on fire
September 11th


photo - Iwo Jima Memorial
Iwo Jima Memorial
to World War II


photo - FARC members
Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia


photo - Shining Path members
Shining Path


photo - Hamas member


photo - Taliban members


photo - opium poppy
Opium Poppy Cultivation


photo - Gary Johnson
Gary Johnson
New Mexico Governor


photo - radio
Public Radio


photo - banner of drug legalization
Banner of Drug


photo - Nancy Reagan
Nancy Reagan
First Lady


photo - cocaine powder
Cocaine Powder


photo - LSD tablets
LSD Tablets


photo - methamphetamine lab
Methamphetamine Lab


photo - marijuana leaf


photo - Administrator Hutchinson at conference
"We must support a balanced approach, but let's not go down the legalization path."
-Asa Hutchinson


photo - Yale Law School crest
Yale University
Law School


photo - Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

photo - Administrator Hutchinson at conference
Asa Hutchinson

Thank you very much. Thank you, Chuck, for that nice introduction. I am delighted to be with you. There’s been some changes in my life since I was last at a CPAC conference. Last year, I entered a new world. The President asked me to leave Congress to head up the Drug Enforcement Administration. People ask me why I did that, and I say because the President asked me to. I’ve entered a new and exciting arena that I’m enjoying, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work on a very important national issue.

Chuck mentioned that I did have a role during the Senate impeachment trial (applause). I was in Dallas last week and met one of the new U.S. Attorneys under President Bush who asked to have his picture taken with me. He later told me that he wanted the shot not because of my position at the DEA, but because of my role in the Senate trial. So sometimes it’s not forgotten, even though it seems a long time ago. But it was not quite as long ago as a gentleman that I ran into a restaurant in Washington, D.C. thought it was. He recognized me, called me over to this table, and said, “I know you, you’re Asa Hutchinson. I watched you on TV, and I just want to tell you what a terrific job you did during Watergate.” (laughter) Well, it wasn’t quite that long ago.

My first great experience in public service was when I was 31 as a new U.S. Attorney appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Let me tell you, it was a joy to work under one of the greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan, who served our country with principle, hope, and optimism (applause). Twenty years later, I have a similar privilege to serve in the administration of George W. Bush whose leadership, steadfastness in times of crisis, and support of freedom will make him one of our great Presidents as well. (applause)

September 11th is a day we will all remember. In a somewhat humorous vein, I remember hearing about a conversation the President had that day. As he was flying around on Air Force One, unable to land because of national security precautions, he called his father to check on his well-being. And he said, “Dad, where are you?” The former President answered, “Well, Barbara and I are here in Milwaukee.” George W. Bush then asked what he was doing there. His father replied, “Son, you grounded my plane.” (laughter) That’s called the power of the Presidency when you can do that.

On a more serious note, September 11th brought many changes in our culture. I think when we look back, history teaches us that in a time of crisis, values have a way of being clarified and strengthened. The moral fuzziness goes away, and our foundation is made stronger. It is my hope that history will prove correct and this national trauma will lead us into an era of responsibility.

If you look back at history, during World War II, another time of national crisis, our nation enjoyed the lowest level of drug use in the modern history of our country. It was an era of responsibility. I believe we have the same potential for having the same era of responsibility today. All of a sudden, drug use is not only harmful, it is not only illegal, it can also be a revenue source for terrorists.

We should understand very clearly today that there is a drugs-to-money-to-terror relationship that is historic, that is current, and that is threatening to our future.

Historically, if you look at war-torn Colombia, where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, raises funds in part from the drug trade to purchase weapons and finance their attacks on the innocent.

If you look in Peru, the Shining Path, guerrillas fund their political and military power and influence by “taxing” local drug traffickers.

In the Middle East, terrorist groups such as the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah are involved in aspects of drug trade to finance their terrorist activities.

If you look in Southeast Asia, there is an army called the United Wa State Army, that consists of over 16,000 armed troops. That group is funded primarily by the methamphetamine and heroin drug trade.

More recently, the Taliban, which controls opium production and directly taxes the drug trade in Afghanistan, opened its door to Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization. They built their financial base from heroin trafficking. You see the drugs-to-terror nexus in many different parts of the world.

Most Americans now understand that drug money went at least in part to protect the terrorists that attacked American lives. Unless this drugs-terrorism linkage is broken, history is bound to repeat it self. What should we do about this?

First of all, we’re working very hard at the DEA to cut off the financial supply of the terrorists, and certainly the FBI and the State Department are working to cut off the state-supported funding of terrorism and other criminal activities. The DEA is working with our international partners to develop an Afghan initiative to disrupt the heroin supply that comes out of Afghanistan—which provides 70 percent of the world’s heroin. This plan involves training, poppy crop destruction, alternative crop development, and criminal justice system development that can prosecute drug traffickers.

I met the other day with the new Justice Minister who will be going to Afghanistan and he reminded me of the difficulty of the drug problem. I asked him if he thought the heroin markets in Afghanistan could be stopped. He looked at me and said, “We’re going to try. But you must remember, heroin production was legalized in 1359.” That’s 600 years of tradition we’re up against. We must take this unique opportunity in history and try to break that cycle that impacts Europe, impacts the United States, and impacts the world in terms of civility of our governments.

The second thing we must do besides this operational initiative, is we must, as a nation, not weaken our resolve and give into those who advocate drug legalization. (applause) I met some great young people here—some of whom came from New Mexico—and we were talking about Governor Gary Johnson, who is a Republican, who is a quality person. I enjoyed meeting him, but let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, he is advocating the wrong policy when it comes to drugs. He is sending the message that marijuana ought to be legalized. He is signaling that drug legalization is the way we ought to go in our country.

In my new position, I believe we must engage in the legalization debate. So when National Public Radio invited me to go to New Mexico and debate Governor Johnson at the New Mexico University Law School, I said it might not be the ideal forum (laughter), but it’s an important place to debate. So I went there, and just before the debate was to begin, I asked a security guard how the crowd was. She said, “They’re hanging from the rafters and they’re anxious to begin.” She paused and then added that they were also “a little mellow.” (laughter)

We debated and we argued the issues. There are two arguments that are presented by those on the drug legalization side.

First of all, they argue, our drug efforts have been failing for 20 years. I answer that with a little history. Our anti-drug efforts did not start with Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No.” We’ve engaged in this anti-drug effort not for 20 years, but for 120 years. In 1880, drugs were legal, and we had the highest level of drug use ever.

The fact is when we engage in this effort, we make progress. The most unknown fact about drug use is that, during the last 15 years, we’ve reduced cocaine use by 75 percent. That’s 4 million people fewer that use cocaine on a regular basis than 15 years ago (applause.) Overall drug use has been reduced by 50 percent. That’s 9.3 million people fewer. People are often surprised by these facts and say they didn’t know that. Well, nobody wants you to know these facts.

When we look at the statistics, we see the high drug use in the 1970s and early 1980s that were reduced because of the initiative of the Reagan Administration and Bush administration. We reduced drug use until about 1993. And then all of a sudden—and you figure out the reason—(laughter) there was a little uptick in drug use in this country. But Congress re-engaged in the effort and it’s leveled off. But yes, we can make progress when we as a nation focus on this issue and with leadership at the highest levels, and I’m grateful for the leadership of President Bush. (applause)

One of those percentages may have been one of your family members, neighbors, or someone in your community. So it’s not just about statistics, it’s about human lives, it’s about families, its about communities, and the future of our country.

The second argument legalizers provide is an economic theory, that if you legalize drugs, and this appeals to conservatives, then you’re going to take the criminal element out because you won’t have a profit motive anymore. Let’s think abut that. If drugs were legalized, then you’d have to legalize everything to take the criminal element out. When Governor Johnson advocates legalizing marijuana, how about heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine?

If you legalize heroin, which very few advocate, then you’re going to have to be dealing with methamphetamine, Ecstasy, and club drugs that are out there. Are the cartels going to be out of business if you legalize marijuana? No. Are they going to be out of business if you legalize heroin? No, they just turn to cocaine and methamphetamine. No one wants to advocate the legalization of all those drugs that destroy America.

That economic argument does not flow. Legalizers say we’ll save law enforcement costs. Well, we’ll still have to protect our borders from the terrorists. And we still have to protect them from all the different drugs that might flow in. There will always be a business for organized crime, and there will always be a need to protect our border.

We should not debate our drug policy in terms of legalization, but we should debate our drug policy in terms of new ideas. And we’re open to new ideas, like drug courts that provide strong treatment programs for those that have an addiction problem and are convicted of a nonviolent crime. We must support a balanced approach, but let’s not go down the legalization path.

After everybody heard about our debate in New Mexico, Yale University Law School invited us to debate again up there. If you want a conservative audience, don’t go to Yale University. (laughter). At the debate, Governor Johnson went first and gave his opening statement. It was well-received. I know I’m at a disadvantage at this point, so I asked how many in the audience believe we ought to legalize marijuana. 80 percent raised their hand. I looked down at the 20 percent who didn’t raise their hand, and they’re all DEA agents in the front row. (laughter) I just want to make sure they didn’t raise their hands. (laughter)

I think conservatives need to think this through. I was honored to meet with some young professionals who were debating this issue, and I commend them for thoughtful analysis. Some conservatives because of our love of freedom drift over and think the government out to get out of drug regulation. So where should conservatives be on the drug issue? First of all, conservatives have a hallmark of basing decisions on responsibility. And secondly, based upon reason. If you look at responsibility and reason, you should come to the conclusion that conservatives should oppose drug legalization.

We should have the position that honors the value of responsibility in our society. As Winston Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” What policy moves America in the next generation towards responsibility? I believe it is the present policy of understanding how harmful drugs are and it is the right direction for America.

When you look at reason, reason dictates that America’s future will be more secure if America continues to lead the nations of the world not towards permissive use, but away from drug dependence.

photo - Ground Zero in NY
Ground Zero

Let me end by saying that not long after the September 11th attacks, I visited “Ground Zero.” Three sights stuck in my mind.

First of all I saw the twisted steel. And you can’t help but be amazed at the incredible devastation that was wreaked upon our society.

And then I saw the temporary memorial that was set up by the loved ones who lost family members. Some of our brave law enforcement officials were also lost and were represented at that memorial that reflected the sacrifice that America has made.

The third thing I saw was the American flag that flew over the rubble that represented the determination and spirit of the American people.

And it is that determination and spirit, led by our great President, that is going to give us a victory over terrorism. We need to apply that same determination, grit, and sprit to beating this terrible difficulty of our country called drug dependence. That’s why I’m at the DEA. That’s why we have so many brave men and women out there fighting this battle.

We ask for your help, we ask that you engage in this debate honestly and fairly. Thank you for your support. God bless you. (applause) ##


photo - Administrator Hutchinson at podium at conference
"We ask that you engage in this debate honestly and fairly."
-Asa Hutchinson

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