The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper (202) 669-6430

Possible Obama Pick for "Drug Czar" Criticized by Dozens of Health, Criminal Justice and Drug Treatment Organizations

Ramstad’s Positions on Syringe Exchange, Medical Marijuana and other Issues, Backwards and Harmful Say Experts


A growing number of organizations are expressing concern about
reports in the media that President-elect Obama may be considering
appointing Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN) to be his "Drug
Czar", citing Ramstad's positions on syringe exchange programs, medical
marijuana, and other issues. In a letter to President-elect Obama
released today, the National Black Police Association, the Latino
Commission on AIDS, the National AIDS Fund and more than three dozen
other public health, criminal justice and drug treatment organizations
warn that Ramstad's positions are backwards and at odds with science
and human rights.

Rep. Ramstad is well known in the substance abuse treatment
community for successfully fighting to pass legislation designed to
make health insurance companies cover drug treatment and mental health
services like any other medical conditions. He is notably recovering
from alcohol misuse and, if appointed, would be the nation's first Drug
Czar to be in recovery from a drug problem. Still, some charge that he
is too wedded to faith-based 12-Step treatment programs and not open to
more evidence-based treatment programs, like methadone maintenance

In 1998 Ramstad voted in favor of making permanent the federal
funding ban on syringe exchanges, despite decades of research showing
that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and
hepatitis C without increasing drug use. He voted in 2000 to prohibit
the District of Columbia from spending its own locally raised,
non-federal funds on syringe exchange programs and voted last year
against repealing the same D.C. ban. Rep. Ramstad has also consistently
opposed congressional efforts to stop the arrest of patients suffering
from HIV/AIDS, cancer and illnesses who use medical marijuana to ease
their pain and suffering in states where it is legal. These positions
clearly conflict with President-elect Obama's stated positions on the

With controversy around Ramstad growing, the Drug Policy Alliance
recently released five criteria that President-elect Obama should use
when choosing a Drug Czar. Rep. Ramstad meets none of these criteria,
which include:

1. Is s/he committed to enacting and supporting evidence-based
policies? ONDCP should make decisions based on science, not politics or

2. Is s/he committed to reducing the harms associated with both drugs and punitive drug laws?

3. Does s/he think drug use should be treated as a health issue not a criminal justice issue?

4. Does s/he welcome and encourage debate and research? We need a
Drug Czar who is open-minded and willing to consider every alternative.

5. Is s/he committed to reducing the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars?

"Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke once said that the Drug Czar
should be more of a surgeon general than a military general or police
officer," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug
Policy Alliance. "Ramstad is just not right for the position. His
opposition to repealing the federal syringe ban is reason enough to
exclude him."

To view the sign on letter, click here.

The Drug Policy Alliance is the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

(212) 613-8020