The state’s marijuana legalization law is “a huge mistake” that will lead to increased drug and alcohol abuse, the nation’s former drug czar and retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey said in an interview Thursday.

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“I don’t have a clue” how the federal government will respond, said McCaffrey. “I think local political leadership in the state of Washington was intimidated and irresponsible, or uneducated.”

McCaffrey, who headed the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton, offered his thoughts on marijuana legalization after a speech to the Downtown Yakima Rotary Club at the Yakima Convention Center.

Prior to McCaffrey’s speech, a Rotary member joked in opening remarks that he wouldn’t ask who was taking advantage of legalized marijuana, but instead offered up boxes of Ding Dongs, Twinkies and other snacks that can appeal to marijuana users who have the munchies.

McCaffrey said a relaxed attitude toward marijuana doesn’t help the problem.

“Even the nice gentleman who thought it was funny and clever to use Twinkies,” McCaffrey said after the meeting. “If you’re an employer and you think it’s OK for family members and employees to use drugs, you’ve got a screw loose.”

McCaffrey, who retired in 1996 after 32 years in the military, mostly addressed foreign policy and U.S. defense infrastructure in his presentation to the club.

He touched on Wednesday’s announcement from U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that women would no longer be banned from direct combat, saying the military will only benefit from the policy shift.

“We’re immensely stronger because (women) are in uniform,” said McCaffrey, whose division in the first Gulf War included more than 1,000 women. “Statistically it appears women are better soldiers than men.”

He said those statistics include lower disciplinary rates for women. He said anyone offering themselves up for service in the ground infantry, male or female, is asking for a mentally and physically demanding life in service of their country.

“If you don’t like embracing misery, you’re in the wrong business,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains the greatest security threat to the United States. With Iran expected to develop nuclear weapons within the next five years, McCaffrey said the Middle East will become increasingly destabilized.

“No good can come of it,” he said. “Hopefully by then we’ll have the naval power and technology to tell the Iranians, ‘If you use them, they won’t work.’”

McCaffrey said that’s because the United States would be able to strike down any such missiles early into their launch.

McCaffrey said it’s important to invest in a modernized Air Force and Navy as a deterrent to any future attacks against the nation’s interests, including its own shorelines.

“But with sequestration, debate over the budget, these programs are going to be in jeopardy,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said there are reasons for citizens to hold their heads up despite the sour state of global politics and the nation’s ongoing recovery from the recession. He said the United States is still the wealthiest nation in the world, with one of the largest agricultural and manufacturing bases despite economic growth in nations such as China.

“When it comes to economic issues, the nation is still in great shape,” McCaffrey said.

He included immigration in the discussion of economic growth, saying the government should find a way to secure the borders from threats while easing access to immigrants who contribute to the nation’s economic growth, including migrant workers.

“A lot of our economic vitality has been based on being an immigrant culture,” he said.

McCaffrey also praised the effectiveness of the U.S. Constitution and American government despite the hyper-partisan atmosphere in national politics at the moment.

“It’s already the oldest Constitution on the face of the Earth, and it’s one of the shortest,” McCaffrey said. “It’s a country where we have more women and minorities involved in government than any other nation.”

• Mike Faulk can be reached at 509-577-7675 or mfaulk@yakimaherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mike_Faulk.