On the positive side, Kerlikowske hails from Seattle — a city that has elected to make the enforcement marijuana crimes cops’ lowest priority. And although the police chief spoke out against the initiative effort — which passed with 58 percent of the vote in 2003 — he’s abided by the will of the people since then. As a result, there are now fewer marijuana-related arrests in Seattle than in virtually any other major city in the United States.
On the negative side, Kerlikowske is first and foremost a cop. He’s served 36 years in law enforcement, and it is foolish to assume that he will in any way embrace our issue with open arms. That said, I find myself in cautious agreement with NORML Board Member (and longtime Seattle resident) Dominic Holden, who believes that Kerlikowske may bring a “progressive” approach to an agency that has, almost since its inception, operated in the ‘Dark Ages.’
The day the U.S. government finally — and properly — recognizes that drug use is a public health problem and not solely a criminal justice issue will be the day that the President appoints a White House ‘Drug Czar’ who possesses a professional background in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.
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But until that day arrives, perhaps the best we reformers can hope for is a cop who appreciates that pot poses less of a danger to the public than alcohol, and who recognizes that from a practical and fiscal standpoint, targeting and arresting adults who engage in the responsible use of cannabis doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. At first glance, Obama’s pick — unlike his predecessor John Walters — appears to possess both of these common sense qualities.
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