The Government: Drug Czar Under Attack From Right, Left 5/5/06

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Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head John Walters has been the target of pointed criticism in the past two weeks, with a pair of Iowa senators last week calling for him to be fired because of his failure to aggressively confront methamphetamine or effectively reduce coca production in the Andes. This week, a Colorado senator ridiculed Walters for his emphasis on marijuana.

In a Senate hearing last week, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) called for Walters to be fired. Grassley said his calls for more action on meth had been met with "basically bureaucratic mumbo jumbo." Grassley also criticized Walters' support of the Bush administration budget cuts in the Drug Free Communities program. "I think the president ought to fire the drug czar," said Grassley, chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, told reporters this week.

Grassley's colleague, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) agreed with him. "I believe Mr. Walters has dropped the ball, and he is not focused on the real problems we have, especially methamphetamine." Walters has been "a failure" as drug czar, Harkin told Radio Iowa.

Grassley also went after Walter's for the failed US anti-coca strategy in Colombia. According to a report released April 14 by the drug czar's office, despite several years of massive aerial herbicide spraying, the Colombia coca crop was largely this year than the year before.

In a letter to Walters demanding an explanation, Grassley called Walters' extolling the successes of the Colombia strategy as "premature and perhaps even unfounded." Grassley worried that ONDCP has been cherry-picking the numbers "to provide a rosier, but not necessarily more accurate picture" of the nearly $5 billion effort to eradicate the Colombian coca crop. Walters' rose-tinted view has "serious concerns within Congress about our ability to effectively combat narco-traffickers," Grassley added.

If the attacks from the corn belt weren't enough, Walters drew more flack this week from Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), who criticized the drug czar for coming to Colorado to lobby against marijuana legalization. An initiative that would do just that is being promoted by SAFER and is now in the signature-gathering stage. Walters should be concentrating on methamphetamine instead of marijuana, Salazar said Monday.

A spokesman for Salazar told the Rocky Mountain News Salazar would not join in the calls to fire Walters, but would like him to see the damage from meth first-hand. "The rural sheriffs would say that meth is our biggest problem," said spokesman Cody Wertz. "We do need to focus more on the methamphetamine scourge than marijuana."

But as of last Friday, Walters was still on point. In a phone interview with the News, he warned that marijuana is a severe problem in Colorado. "There is a general feeling that people who use marijuana are harmless and kind of funny," Walters said. "There are people coming into the criminal justice system for marijuana and some are engaged in violent crimes," he said. "It doesn't just make you giggle."

Unlike the drug czar's pronouncements.

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Issue #434 -- 5/5/06

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