Possible Obama Pick for

Press Release December 2, 2008
Media Contact

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

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 therapy.

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 issues.

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 ideology.

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.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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