Doles Drug Problem: John Buckley

During a recent controversy over the drug pasts of White House staffers, presidential press secretary Mike McCurry made a simple statement. I was a kid in the 1970s, he said. Did I smoke a joint from time to time? Of course I did.Given that some 66 million Americans have tried marijuana (according to a government estimate), and given that so many Republicans Newt Gingrich and Susan Molinari, for instance freely admit that they have used it, one might think that the country would be ready for a little honesty.The Dole campaign apparently doesn't think so. No wonder were losing the war on drugs, said Dole after a government report last month showed a jump in teenage drug use (mostly marijuana), when you've got such a big problem in the White House itself.Dole also ordered up a campaign ad that shows a Clinton appearance on MTV in 1992, with the color drained for a grainy black-and-white effect. Clinton is asked if he would inhale marijuana the second time around. He gives a joking yes, and suggests that he actually tried to inhale the first time.Having experimented with pot, the Dole ad implies, the president doesnt care about the drug problem. He just doesnt get it, the announcer intones ominously. But we do. It's a line Dole likes to repeat on the campaign trail. And if the message however hypocritical continues to play well, Dole strategists will no doubt order more ads.But now, an investigation has revealed, the Dole campaign has a drug past of its own to contend with. John Buckley is the communications director of the Bob Dole campaign. He is one of the top aides crafting the candidate's anti-drug message. He is also, according to numerous reliable reports, no stranger to drugs himself. As a student at Hampshire College in the late 1970s he smoked pot, according to four classmates who have requested anonymity, and one who has allowed his name to be used. Two of the classmates also allege that he sold marijuana on campus.One of the classmates who says he smoked marijuana with Buckley, and also bought marijuana from him describes an elegant briefcase in which Buckley carried vials with samples of different buds. You could sample them, the classmate says, before making a purchase.That Buckley even attended Hampshire, a bastion of liberalism if ever there was one, is strange enough. His uncle is William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review and one of the century's leading conservative figures. And James L. Buckley, a former Republican senator from New York, is another uncle. (John is also a cousin of journalist Christopher Buckley.)But John Buckley is not your average conservative. After college, according to a New York Times profile, he worked as a freelance music critic for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. He also contributed to the New York Rocker, an underground rock zine. His uncle William is very independent-minded on the issue of drugs: he has long called for drug legalization (except for minors), and an end to the drug war.Since Buckley attended Hampshire in the late 1970s he graduated in 1979 its hardly surprising that he was caught up in the drug scene. Sure, he smoked pot, says Ed Benfey, who lived in the same building with Buckley, but that's not a big deal. John was like everyone else.Its hard to imagine anyone being there and not being a part of that, says Ralph Mossman, who started at Hampshire in 1977, but did not know Buckley. People came to Hampshire to buy cocaine, LSD, peyote. Everything but aspirin.Benfey says he doesnt specifically remember Buckley ever selling marijuana, and if he did, says Benfey, it was as a casual dealer. But two classmates do remember him selling pot.It also seems clear that Buckley did not have a drug problem. He was always very disciplined, says one classmate who saw Buckley smoke pot at parties, but who requested anonymity. He was more together than a lot of people there at the time.Benfey agrees, noting that Buckley was not a serious partier.Indeed, it appears he did what a lot of college kids in the 70s did. He smoked pot socially, in a milieu where it was viewed no differently than having a glass of wine with dinner. And he sold pot to friends when he came across a bargain.What seems lost in the latest wave of drug hysteria fueled by the Bob Dole campaign is a sense of perspective. There's a big difference between smoking pot and abusing heroin or cocaine. And to conflate the two is not just dishonest; it is dangerous. Think of all the people who try marijuana and discover that it doesnt fry the brain like an egg cracked into a frying pan, to steal an image from one of the old anti-drug campaigns. How likely are they then to believe warnings about the truly dangerous drugs?It is also hypocrisy to pretend that marijuana, and drug use in general, was not widespread in the 1970s. John Buckley by all accounts a decent man, and intelligent and talented press secretary surely understands all this.Perhaps now he can explain it to his boss.

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