Two National Officials Who Advocated Drug Policy Reform Pass Away
Roger O. Egeberg, former President Richard Nixon's top health official, passed away on September 12 (Louie Estrada, "Roger O. Egeberg dies; Nixon's top health official," The Washington Post, September 14, 1997, p. B8).
Egeberg was the dean of the University of Southern California's medical school in 1969 when Nixon picked him to become Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare for Health and Scientific Affairs. The appointment of Dr. Egeberg, who had a reputation as a consensus builder and a proponent of stronger relations between public and private health services, was seen as a way to placate the AMA. His first encounter with public criticism came when he attacked the legal penalties for use of marijuana, saying that the penalty was "out of proportion to the importance of the drug itself."
He said that an increasing number of health officials did not believe that use of marijuana led to heroin addiction. Along with that, he said that the use of hard drugs was an "appalling problem" and called for a joint effort between health officials and law enforcement to solve the problem. His stance is believed to have led the Nixon administration's proposal to lower the classification of simple possession of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor in an amendment to narcotics legislation presented in 1969 and enacted in 1970.
George W. Crockett, a prominent civil rights activist, judge and Michigan Congressman, died at the age of 88 (Robert Thomas, Jr., "George W. Crockett dies at 88; was a civil rights crusader," New York Times, September 15, 1997, p. A22).
A man who was in front of controversial issues, Crockett was the first Member of Congress to call for the decriminalization of drugs when he retired. He had served for five terms on the House Judiciary Committee during the build-up of the "war on drugs" during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. He also chaired the House Subcommittee on Western Hemispheric Affairs.
Crockett was general counsel to the United Auto Workers union in 1946 and 1947. Crockett's notoriety began in 1949, when as a lawyer he defended 11 Communist leaders for violating the Smith Act. He served as a judge in Detroit during the 1960's and 1970's, where he was known for handing out lenient sentences to those convicted of minor offenses and first time offenders. This led him to be regarded as a hero in the local black community.