Ashcroft escalates drug war rhetoric on Larry King Live

On February 7, 2001 U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was Larry King's guest on the popular CNN television special. The following dialogue took place that evening; excerpts included here represent some drug war thinking of our new Top Cop.

KING: War on drugs, any change?

JOHN ASHCROFT: Well, I want to escalate the war on drugs. I want to renew it. I want to refresh it, re-launch it, if you will.

KING: Is it a failure?

Well, we haven't done what we need to do. When the Clinton Administration came in eight years ago, they took the Drug Czar's office and cut the staffing there from about 140 down to about 25. And frankly, the war on drugs requires leadership, and when the President of the United States says I maybe didn't inhale but I wish I had, and he says that on MTV, you have to understand it - drug use began to come back up, substantially. We've had tremendous...

KING: Do you think that affects people, a President making...

JOHN ASHCROFT: Absolutely. I think when it is signaled - of course, we had a Surgeon General of the United States who said, hey, we ought to just legalize all these drugs. When you've got the president saying I probably wish I had inhaled, and the Surgeon General saying these things ought to be made legal, I think that sends the wrong signals.

KING: So you're going to be what? Tough, tougher?

JOHN ASHCROFT: We want to re-launch the war on drugs, and we want to bring parents into the equation. You know, it's hard for a government to direct children (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for parents. And if we can help parents be better parents - and the president sure has an interesting program called the Parent Drug Corps. So he wants parents to be educated and to help them make presentations to their kids; that's a good idea.

But we'll enforce the law with vigor and with intensity. We've got to stop this upswing in drug use. And the statistics are alarming.

Let me just - I've got some of them on a piece of paper here. The number of high school seniors who have tried drugs is at its highest level in over a decade. Compared to 1992, daily use of marijuana - within the previous 30 days, pardon me, increased by 700 percent between '92 and '97.

KING: What do you do, General, though, about demand? I mean, you have to have demand.

JOHN ASHCROFT: Well, one of the things you do about demand is that for - particularly, in young people - you get their parents involved, and you try to educate children away from demand, and you try to lead children away from demand. That's why I think it's so important to have a President who will speak forcefully against drug use than - rather than wink and give the nod in some sense like saying, "Well, I didn't inhale but I wish I had." That's just the wrong signal to send.