Drug Czar Says Mexican Drug Gangs Taking Over Public Land December 17, 2003 Drug Czar John Walters, on a whistle-stop tour through California, accused violent Mexican drug cartels of taking over public land in the state’s parks to grow marijuana and, for the first time, opium. (This is likely not what President Bush had in mind two weeks ago when he signed the Healthy Forests Initiative, opening some public lands to private enterprise.) Walters, interviewed by the Associated Press during a stop in Sacramento, said that the cartels, none of which he named, are using the state’s rich lands to grow drugs in the United States, which they deem to be safer and more lucrative than risking interdiction at the U.S. border. Critics of the Bush administration and Walters have pounced on the drug czar. "It's a good thing for the federal government that it's not subject to the same laws that the rest of us are," said Bill Piper, Associate Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "If it was, it would have to indict itself under the RAVE Act, which punishes innocent property owners who fail to stop drug offenses on their property. It would also have to spray deadly herbicides over state and national forests – and everyone camping in them – the way it does in Colombia. Other countries are no more able to stop people from growing drugs than we are in the United States,” said Piper. “But, as usual, the drug war has a double standard for those who are in power and those who are not." While in California, Walters met with and touted the state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), which is made up of seventy local, state, and federal drug-enforcement organizations. This year CAMP seized a record 466,054 plants – including 40,000 opium poppies found along the border of Yosemite National Park – valued at $1.9 billion, seventy-five percent of which it says were seized while growing on public lands. Like Walters, though, CAMP plays fast and loose with the facts, claiming that eighty-four percent of drug seizures were made on large plantations “linked to Mexican gangs,” while giving no evidence to support such a claim. Typical of a Walters visit – which is always a talking-to and never a dialogue – the drug czar did not take questions after a speech yesterday and “was whisked away by [the] Secret Service to catch a flight back to Washington, D.C.,” according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.