Two weeks ago when retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstadâ€™s name was bandied about in D.C. as President-elect Obamaâ€™s new drug czar, supporters cheered it as a showing of Obamaâ€™s desire for a bipartisan cabinet.
Ramstad, an 18-year Republican veteran of the U.S. House with a public history of alcoholism and recovery, helped pass legislation earlier this year to bolster health coverage for people with mental health and substance abuse conditions, making him an appealing choice to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. But now his potential nomination is hitting a little turbulence.
More than 40 health-care and treatment groups, including the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, sent a letter to the Obama transition team Wednesday pointing to Ramstadâ€™s past votes against needle-exchange programs and the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes as evidence that he might not be a part of the change on which Obama so successfully ran.
The letter specifically addresses three votes in 1998, 2000 and 2007 against needle-exchange programs, while other skeptics point to five votes against medicinal marijuana.
Although Ramstad hasnâ€™t publicly commented on his interest in the post, let alone outlined a would-be drug policy, the groups still arenâ€™t taking any chances in their break from a Bush administration-style war on drugs.
â€œRepresentative Ramstad has consistently opposed policies that seek to reduce drug-related harm and create common ground on polarizing issues,â€ the letter says.
The Senate would have to approve any Obama nominee, but Ramstad already has some Democrats in his corner, such as Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy whom he worked with to enact the mental health parity legislation.
No candidates for the drug czar’s job have been officially announced by the team running Obama’s search for a successor to current ONDCP head John Walters.
Ramstad’s office declined to comment Wednesday.