Peter Bourne

By Dokoupil, Tony | Newsweek, September 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

Peter Bourne


Dokoupil, Tony, Newsweek


Byline: Tony Dokoupil

Carter's top drug cop finds Obama's pot policy 'insane.'

Dr. Peter Bourne is on a high these days. The self-described "first drug czar"--the first with full control over both the punishment and the treatment sides of federal policy--left the Carter administration under a cloud in 1978, accused of snorting cocaine at a party thrown by none other than NORML, the have-a-hit marijuana lobby. He hotly denied the charge, but not his attendance--and that was enough. The scandal ended the only truce in the nation's 40-year war on drugs, a moment when Bourne--echoing the president and a majority of the country at the time--tried to end criminal penalties against pot.

Thirty-four years later, Washington hasn't budged on the issue--but the states have, much to Bourne's delight. Twelve now treat a personal stash like a minor traffic offense. Seventeen support medical marijuana. And this fall, if current polling holds, voters in Colorado and Washington will legalize the plant, making pot nearly as acceptable for adult recreation as Ping-Pong. "It's quite gratifying," says Bourne, speaking by phone from his farm in the English countryside.

But the urbane British-born psychiatrist is also disappointed. In a rare interview, he says the Obama administration's approach to marijuana is "totally insane." He thinks "they should be bolder," urging Congress to decriminalize and considering an executive order if necessary. Currently, what they're doing--raiding medical-marijuana dispensaries, defending pot's classification as a drug as bad as meth--"doesn't make any sense at all. …

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