NORML's Mixed Review of Obama's Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske


According to just published news reports, President Barack Obama has tapped Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to be the nation’s next ‘Drug Czar.’

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.

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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