WASHINGTON – Naming John P. Walters to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, President Bush said Thursday he is ordering a full review of the United States' policies and strategy in fighting the war on drugs.
Bush said during a Rose Garden ceremony that he was keeping the drug policy director post in his Cabinet. The president pledged to pay "unprecedented attention" to helping drug-addicted Americans get treatment, and resolutely rejected the prospect of legalizing drugs.
"The only human and compassionate response to drug use is a moral refusal to accept it," Bush said. "Drug legalization would be a social catastrophe... [it] would completely undermine the message that drug use is wrong."
Walters, who served as the drug office's deputy director for supply reduction when William Bennett was drug czar during the administration of former President Bush, is known for his tough approach on drugs. Thursday, Walters said he hopes to "shield our communities from the terrible human toll taken by drug use," by starting with a renewed focus on the problem of addiction.
"Our country has made great progress in the past in reducing drug use, and we will do it again," Walters said.
The president was ordering a Cabinet review of "exactly how the federal government fights the war on drugs," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
As part of that mission, Bush would be directing John DiIulio Jr., head of the White House Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives, to review existing federal partnerships with local organizations that do anti-drug work, Fleischer said. Bush was asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to do a state-by-state evaluation of current treatment needs, and Attorney General John Ashcroft to look into making prisons drug-free, which includes expanded drug testing of those on parole or probation.
"The president believes to do the job right it has to be multifaceted, it has to focus on both supply and demand," Fleischer said.
Fleischer also noted that all executive branch staff, including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, had taken drug tests during their first week in office. He did not provide details on anyone's test results.
Walters, who co-authored with Bennett and DiIulio the book, Body Count: Moral Poverty and How to Win America's War Against Crime and Drugs, has stressed the importance of criminal penalties for drug users and opposed the use of marijuana for medical purposes. He also has favored the drug certification program, in which nations are judged by their anti-drug efforts. The program has been a sore point in U.S.-Mexican relations.
Two White House officials said Bush plans to make the drug policy director's position a Cabinet-level post, as it had been while Barry McCaffrey headed the office under former President Clinton. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have urged Bush to keep it in the Cabinet.
The office has been without a permanent director since McCaffrey resigned in January.
The drug policy office oversees more than $19 billion in anti-drug programs, working with dozens of agencies.
Fleischer said Wednesday that there are five million "hard-core" drug abusers in the United States. "The president is committed to fighting the war on drugs," Fleischer said.
Asked what would constitute a victory, he said: "A reduction in the number of Americans who abuse drugs, and an increase in the number of Americans who are successfully treated so they no longer use drugs."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.