02/18/2006 01:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why the Feds Care More About Pot Than Meth

So why do we have a White House filled with old-school, disciplinarian law-and-order types who still seem to regard marijuana as the top drug problem in the U.S. -- and who haven't paid much attention to a far more lethal scourge until recently?

That lethal scouge, of course, is meth. Turn on the evening news. That fire in the lower-middle-class subdivision, that beaten wife, that abused child -- even the pockmarked-faced drifter who hit you up for money the last time you went downtown -- lives and property lost to meth.

Yet this Administration as well as the last one have had a track record of appointing enforcement types -- Ashcroft, Barry McCaffrey (actually appointed by Clinton) and current White House drug czar John Walters -- all who have seemed to be more concerned about busting medical-marijuana patients and their caregivers than really cracking down on meth by properly funding local law enforcement efforts and cracking down at the border.

The key reason why so much of our federal law enforcement apparatus remains focused on pot use and distribution rather than meth taking and peddling has a lot to do with the background of those who are in charge of our law enforcement and drug policies.

Most of these men are roughly in my age bracket, which is in their mid- to late 50s.

I remember the future McCaffreys, Walters, and Ashcrofts from college.

While many of us were protesting the war, these were the straight patriots, the ROTC jocks, the ones who called us "freaks" and "hippies."

While some of us talked and wrote warmly about Woodstock and war protests- while decrying "materialism", these were the crew-cut business majors who were in suits when they weren't in ROTC gear.

While some of us sat in our dorm rooms and giggled ourselves silly to Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Tull and the Beatles White album as the wafts of hot smoke drifted out into the hallways, these were the ones who were either off at potless frat parties or were self-styled dorm hall "narcs." Narcs who,with the school administration's blessing, diligently kept lists of those residents whose rooms gave off the most pronounced pot odor, or who would appear to be stoned as they walked around campus.

This was not paranoia, for I saw it close up. I went to a private, conservative Southern college where the future Ashcrofts and Walters' and McCaffreys dominated the social and political life of a school headed at the time by a Naval Vice Admiral who called Vietnam War protestors "homosexuals."

One year, after two years as #2 editor of my college paper, I was in line to become editor but I was not selected. I asked the Dean why and he said he couldn't tell me- it was confidential. To this day I remain convinced it was because of the fact that at the time, I was known around the dorms as one who preferred wacky tabacky. There was this very crew-cut residence manager who liked to walk the halls on weekend evenings, and who had to know. He always looked at me and a few of my friends suspiciously. I am convinced he didn't keep his suspicions to himself, but shared it with said Dean.

That was more than 30 years ago. But what do you suppose happened to these crew-cut, military-friendly types on campus who related the fun we were having to subversive, depraved criminality?

They grew up to be the type of people with a lifelong disdain for marijuana and the people who smoke it. They hear about glaucoma patients who find relief in the herb, and they hear excuses to partake or even just to grow the stuff. Sure, I know Bush got high, but these men (and we are mostly talking about men) rarely or never did. Not only did they never, but they have hated those who did. Thirty or forty years on, that hate has not dissipated.

Meth, meanwhile, is a newer scourge. Where once today's taciturn anti-pot law enforcement czars found themselves close to and diametrically opposed to, pot smokers, meth came out of a class of society the now senior federal law enforcement officials have had little exposure to. The Mexican or biker gang that supplied the local meth cook in the small Oregon town -- and the malnourished children of the meth addicts supplied by this meth cook -- well, that doesn't seem to register with those top federal officials who live on pretty estates in Loudoun or Spotsylvania Counties.

As evidence, I point to John Walters' Congressional testimony yesterday.

In his remarks before the U.S. House's government and reform subcommittee on justice and drug policy, Gen. Walters appeared to make the point that the meth problem we are facing as a nation is largely limited to the Western U.S.- and is a local one at that.

Despite objections even from conservative Republicans, press accounts reported that Walters left the impression he considers "that meth is a localized problem and should be dealt with accordingly."

"By hosing water everywhere, you don't put the fire out where it's most intense," he told the committee.

Conservative Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., gave an answer that put the old school retired Gerneral, in his place.

"Instead of catching it (the meth epidemic) at the beginning, we're now paying the price, an ongoing price,as a government and as a people," he said.