VIENNA, Austria (AP) — U.S. drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey sought Tuesday to ease Dutch anger over his criticism of the Netherlands’ permissive drug laws, saying he has “high respect” for the country despite differences over narcotics policy.
McCaffrey, a retired general, visited the headquarters of the U.N. Drug Control Program in Vienna as part of an eight-day tour to examine European drug treatment and prevention programs.
But the visit has been overshadowed by McCaffrey’s strong criticism of the Dutch policy of allowing citizens to use marijuana and other drugs for therapeutic and recreational purposes.
Last week, McCaffrey told CNN the Dutch policy was an “unmitigated disaster” that had contributed to crime in the Netherlands — comments that prompted a sharp response from the Netherlands’ ambassador to the United States, Joris M. Vos.
“I find the timing of your remarks, six days before your planned visit to the Netherlands with a view to gaining firsthand knowledge” of Dutch drug policies “rather astonishing,” Vos wrote McCaffrey.
On Tuesday, McCaffrey’s spokesman, Robert Housman, issued a statement that expressed concern the Dutch government was being “pulled into an internal political debate” in the United States by those who support decriminalizing drugs.
Asked about his criticism of the Dutch, McCaffrey told reporters Tuesday that “a frank exchange of views among friends is most productive.”
McCaffrey will arrive in the Netherlands on Thursday from Switzerland. The Swiss have a controversial program in which the state distributes small amounts of heroin and other hard drugs to selected addicts under strict medical supervision.
With this trip, McCaffrey also hopes to improve international cooperation in combating drugs. He has already visited Austria and Sweden, and is scheduled to travel later to Portugal and England.