Announcing his resignation yesterday at a White House ceremony, national drug control policy director William J. Bennett ridiculed "potheads" in Alaska, called Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics, a "gasbag," and described the city of Washington as a "basket case."

He also offered a new explanation for the apparent failure of his efforts to curb drug-related violence in the nation's capital: Mayor Marion Barry.

Bennett said he always had a "hunch" about Barry's drug use and deliberately excluded him from initial planning sessions to develop a federal anti-drug strategy for the city. "Did the fact that the mayor used cocaine and crack make it easier or harder? It made it harder," Bennett said. "I didn't know it at the time. But I suspected that his interest in the topic was different from mine. . . . We took {the District} on because it was a basket case."

Bennett's departure in many ways typified his combative 20-month performance in a high-profile position that many critics had said from the start lacked real authority. Although the "drug czar" job had been created by Congress two years ago to coordinate the actions of more than 30 federal agencies, Bennett chose to use it primarily as a rhetorical platform to focus attention on the drug issue and lecture about the "morally scandalous" arguments in favor of legalization.

That approach won Bennett frequent headlines, such as when he said "I don't have any problem" with beheading drug dealers or when he attacked the cartoon character Bart Simpson for his negative attitude. But some Bush administration officials said yesterday the approach had largely outlived its usefulness, a conclusion that Bennett apparently reached some months ago and prompted his decision to return to private life.

"I think he's kind of tired and worn out," one senior administration official said. "The {anti-drug} strategy is in place. Now, it's nuts and bolts implementation, and that's not where his interests lie."

In the past three years, federal anti-drug spending has increased from $6.3 billion to $10.3 billion, with more than 70 percent of that devoted to law enforcement rather than treatment and education. Both Bennett and President Bush, who joined him in the ceremony, said these efforts are paying off, with cocaine prices increasing and cocaine-related hospital emergencies in the inner cities dropping sharply.

There are "very promising signs that suggest the drug problem is diminishing, not only in the suburbs, but in the cities as well," Bush said. He added that, "we are on the road to victory." He said he had not yet begun to look for a replacement.

Not everyone is impressed with the administration's record, or Bennett's role in developing it. "We got record homicides in this country, drug use is now the largest new source of AIDS, and we got more crack babies than ever," said Kevin Zeese, vice president of the Drug Policy Foundation. "He's done a terrible job for the country." Bennett's approach to the job "came off as a lot of bluster," Zeese added. "He came across as somebody who was shouting at this problem, not really doing anything to solve it."

But some of Bennett's defenders noted the limited powers of the drug control policy director's job. With a staff of about 130 and a budget of $16.5 million, Bennett was charged with setting broad policy on the direction of the drug war and then ensuring that specific agencies fulfill the roles that are assigned to them.

But within the federal bureaucracy, the office sometimes has been ignored. The Customs Service last summer shifted funds out of drug interdiction when it was running short in other areas and then paid no attention to directives from Bennett staff workers to put it back. Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman at times rejected Bennett's pleas for higher funding for some programs, leading at one point to a vitriolic shouting match between the two.

Although Bennett also had oversight over foreign policy aspects of the drug war, he showed little interest in that part of the job, delegating it to his chief of staff, John Walters, according to administration officials. And while Bennett has repeatedly denied it, some federal anti-drug officials contend that his office's "clout" in the bureaucracy was decisively diminished when Bush decided not to make the anti-drug chief a member of the Cabinet.

"What you ended up with was a pseudo-Cabinet slot with a lot of responsibility, and not a whole lot of authority," one administration anti-drug official said.

Bennett used yesterday's departure ceremony to meet his critics head-on. "I'm proud of what we've done," he said. Published reports that he was leaving because he was bored, or unhappy or had had quarrels with Chief of Staff John H. Sununu were erroneous, he added.

As for a report that he had decided to quit because of death threats from drug traffickers, Bennett said there had been recent threats from "some potheads" when he recently traveled to Alaska to campaign for a referendum to recriminalize marijuana possession that was approved by voters on Tuesday, but he dismissed them.

Bennett reserved far harsher criticism for Rangel, who earlier in the week charged that "they don't pay any attention in the administration to Bill Bennett."

"Mr. Rangel is a gasbag," Bennett said. "He has nothing to do with drug policy. If you want to make drug policy . . . you do not go see Charlie Rangel because he is out handing out press releases."

Rangel said in response that, "It's sad, I can see how he's frustrated. . . . I feel more sorrow for him than anything else."

Bennett said he expects to become a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and write books on education and the drug war when he leaves office at the end of the month. But he added: "I do want to tell my critics that I am not leaving public life and worse than that, I may not even be leaving public service forever. . . . I may be back."