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Ambassador Weld? No!

The governor's stand on medicinal uses for marijuana undermines his ability to represent US interests in Mexico

On his recent visit to Mexico, President Clinton denounced drug consumption in the United States as a key factor in the cross-border problem with narcotics. The president noted, "On the American side ... we have less than 5 percent of the world's population, and we consume about half the drugs. And we're more than happy every year ... to give billions of dollars that wind up in the hands of narco-traffickers."

No one disagrees that our drug problem is one of demand as well as supply. But why, then, is the president nominating someone who is soft on drugs to be our next ambassador to Mexico?

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Earlier this year, the president certified Mexico as a full and cooperative partner in the war against illegal drugs, despite the fact that 80 percent of the marijuana and 70 percent of the cocaine and heroin that enter our country come through Mexico, and corruption in Mexico's top drug-fighting agency is rampant. Now Mr. Clinton has nominated Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to the top diplomatic post in Mexico, a man who has criticized the administration's opposition to so-called medicinal use of marijuana.

Since drug trafficking is a major point of contention between the US and Mexico, sending an ambassador who endorses the use of an illegal drug contradicts Washington's efforts to curb the flow of drugs into our country.

In December, Clinton's director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Barry McCaffrey, rightly condemned the passage of referenda in California and Arizona to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and reminded the nation that federal law still recognizes marijuana as an illegal substance.

In response, Governor Weld called the administration's action "too strict." In August of 1996, the governor signed into law Massachusetts's own marijuana medicalization bill and endorsed expanding the number of ailments for which marijuana could be prescribed.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Glaucoma Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the American Cancer Society have rejected the supposition that marijuana has any demonstrated medical utility. The medical questions aside, can a diplomat who disagrees with his own government on an issue of critical importance contribute to that government's effort to address the issue internationally?

Mexico today is in a perilous state. Almost a third of Mexico's law enforcement officials have been fired for corruption in the past three years, and more than 900 federal judicial police have been fired for suspected offenses, including theft, extortion, protecting drug shipments, and murder. Gen. Jsus Guttirez Rebollo, Mexico's drug czar, was fired earlier this year by President Ernesto Zedillo for collusion with a cartel leader, a scandal that contributed to a US House of Representatives vote to impose sanctions on Mexico for not fully cooperating in the fight against drugs. The Senate later voted to "certify" Mexico again, though with the qualification that Clinton report back to Congress this fall on Mexico's progress in a number of drug-fighting areas.

Domestically, we have seen the devastating effect that lax leadership has had on the national attitude toward drugs. Indeed, the president's most memorable statement on the subject was, "I didn't inhale," referring to his youthful experimentation with marijuana. The statistics on increasing drug use among teens reflect that laxity. Now, the president is set to send an ambiguous signal to the international community: We say we don't want your drugs crossing our border, but our ambassador to the leading drug transit country believes a little pot may be helpful.

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Admittedly, by criticizing Weld I violate Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment - "Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican." The substance of the issue, however, and the principle involved take precedence over party loyalty.

Clinton should select as our top representative in Mexico someone whose position on illegal drugs reflects our nation's rejection of drug use. Anything less sends the wrong message to Mexico and to the world.

* Mark Souder (R), who represents Indiana's Fourth District, is vice chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice.

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