Obama Presidency
Obama Presidency

NORML Says Obama Makes Right Drug Czar Choice in Kerlikowske

| by NORML
Well, some of the much vaunted and promised ‘change’ under a President Obama appears to be coming true in the formal nomination yesterday of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, and the mainstream media certainly seems to be picking up on all of the positive and salient points about Chief Kerlikowske that drug policy reform advocates have been touting since his name was first floated almost a month ago. Listen to the coverage of the announcement at National Public Radio.

Unlike the prior Drug Czar, John ‘Unicorn’ Walters, a moral crusader (aptly dubbed Bill Bennett’s ‘Mini-Me’ by the DPA’s Ethan Nadelmann), Chief Kerlikowske crafted pragmatic public policies and law enforcement practices that immediately distinguish him from his predecessors such as Bennett, Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Walters.

To wit:

200,000 pro-reform cannabis law supporters converge on the waterfront in Seattle in mid-August for the world famous Hempfest, where adults openly consume cannabis and the hundreds of police present make few to no arrests (and where, ironically, alcohol use is strictly forbidden).

--Local law enforcement in Seattle apparently does not harass the artisans who craft and market the remarkable glass paraphernalia (AKA, medical delivery devices) for which Seattle is famous.

Compare that with Walters’ and former Attorney General Ashcroft’s zealous pursuit and culture-smashing symbolism of arresting, prosecuting and actually incarcerating NORML Advisory Board member Tommy Chong for nine months in a federal prison for the ‘crime’ of selling high-end artisan, Chong Bongs.

Seattle police have a generally good track record working with medical cannabis providers, physicians and patients—including Chief Kerlikowske meeting with medical cannabis stakeholders about how to best implement Washington State’s 2000 medical cannabis laws. Compare this with Walters and McCaffrey who collectively spent 14 years insisting that there is no such thing at all as medical cannabis (often comparing it to crack cocaine), patients who claim efficacy or relief from cannabis as ‘fakers’, recommending physicians as ‘kooks’ and the majority of citizens who’ve voted for medical cannabis law reform as ‘easily duped by legalizers’.

Rumor has it that Chief Kerlikowske has actually employed the term ‘harm reduction‘ in a sentence without employing foul language! In fact, under his leadership (and that of former Seattle Police Chief and NORML Advisory Board member Norm Stamper before him) Seattle police both recognize and practice the increasingly popular, European-inspired police/public health doctrine known as harm reduction. Two of the important tenets of harm reduction are concentrating police resources on so-called ‘hard’ drugs rather than cannabis consumers and needle exchange to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases–both championed by Chief Kerlikowske, and totally dismissed as ‘tools for legalization’ by McCaffrey and Walters.

Despite publicly opposing a reform effort in 2003 in Seattle to make adult cannabis possession a low law enforcement priority, once I-75 was passed by a majority of voters, Chief Kerlikowske shrugged off the lost, embraced the public-health centric arguments advanced by reform advocates, and met with law reformers in the Seattle-area like I-75 campaigner and NORML board member Dominic Holden, defense attorney and NORML Board member Jeff Steinborn, popular travel author/TV host and NORML advisory board member Rick Steves.

John Walters on the otherhand would not even appear in the same green room with me backstage on TV news show, let alone debate live on the same sound stage.

Looks to me like Chief Kerlikowske is a real man…not a moralistic, lie-to-beat-the-band bureaucrat.

Chief Kerlikowske’s former colleagues on the police force, cannabis law reform activists, medical patients, civil rights lawyers and public health officials all seem to recognize that science and ‘smart on crime’ (as compared to ‘tough on crime’ and ineffective platitudes like ‘just say no’ or ‘drug-free America’) drive his policing—not ideology and a twisted sense of personal morality.

With the recent report from a pair of WA researchers affirming that the ONDCP under McCaffrey and Walters obsessed too much on cannabis prohibition, and not enough on meth, crack, heroin…a decided change in leadership at ONDCP can’t happen fast enough.

Lastly, it was also announced yesterday by the 1980s congressional author of the ONDCP charter, no less and with sweet karmic irony, Vice President Joe Biden, that despite the best intentions of placing the ONDCP into the President’s cabinet in 1988, from this point forward the ONDCP is no longer going to be a cabinet-level office.

Whoa. Now that is change NORML and taxpayers can believe in!