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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


March 23, 2004

GAO Says White House Lying About Drug Science is Perfectly Okay

White House Gets Permission to Lie (3/11/2004 - Marijuana Policy Project press release)

Responding to a request by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, yesterday gave the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) unfettered permission to mislead the public in the name of opposing drug legalization.

In the run-up to the November 2002 elections, ONDCP campaigned aggressively against state ballot measures to reform marijuana laws and other anti-drug policies. Part of this effort was a letter to local prosecutors from ONDCP Deputy Director Scott Burns, which made a number of statements considered misleading by experts, including the claims that "marijuana and violence are linked" and "no credible research suggests" that marijuana has medical uses.

In an April 2, 2003, letter, available here, Paul asked the GAO to investigate whether the Burns letter violated the ban on use of taxpayer funds for "publicity and propaganda" as well as the longstanding GAO position that "the government should not disseminate misleading information."

In its March 10 response to Paul, the GAO declared, in essence, that the truth or falsity of ONDCP's statements is irrelevant. "ONDCP is specifically charged with the responsibility for 'taking such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use' of certain controlled substances such as marijuana," wrote GAO General Counsel Anthony Gamboa. "Given this role, we do not see a need to examine the accuracy of the Deputy Director's individual statements in detail." The full GAO response is available here.

The declaration appears to contradict prior GAO actions. In 1976, for example, the GAO ruled that a pamphlet about nuclear energy was "not a proper document for release to the public" because of its misleading and one-sided statements.

"Amazingly, the GAO has ruled that the truth simply doesn't matter in the so-called 'War on Drugs,' " said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "This is even more shocking than the simultaneous GAO ruling on the administration's Medicare ads. In that case they suggested the ads were perhaps in a gray zone, but here they are saying that accuracy is irrelevant and lying is not a problem. We believe the American public expects better from their government."

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