According to both local and White House sources, President Barack Obama will nominate Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy—a cabinet-level position commonly referred to as the Drug Czar—an appointment that could signal a substantive departure from our nation’s current marijuana-focused, interdiction-heavy drug policy, and a more realistic and progressive approach toward the issue of drug abuse in general.
Within the context of career law enforcement professionals, I think it safe to label Kerlikowske a “progressive.” During his ten-years at the helm of the Seattle Police Department and his current term as president of the Major Chiefs Association, Kerlikowske has been a vocal advocate for gun control and community policing, while serving as a prominent critic of the use of intrusive data mining techniques as a tool for combating domestic terrorism. But while he hasn’t been particularly outspoken on drug control policy, Kerlikowske’s relative silence is encouraging in itself, considering the progressive mores and statutes of the city whose laws he has enforced for the past decade.
While Kerlikowske opposed a 2003 citizens initiative making marijuana in Seattle a “low priority crime,” calling the measure vague and confusing (and… well… most initiatives are), he emphasized to local reporters at the time that marijuana possession and use already was a low priority, and in fact, Seattle’s already low marijuana prosecution rate has dropped even further since the measure’s passage, indicating a responsiveness to the will of the voters. Indeed, local drug reform advocates seem downright ecstatic about Kerlikowske’s appointment:
“Oh God bless us,” said Joanna McKee, co-founder and director of Green Cross Patient Co-Op, a medical-marijuana patient-advocacy group. “What a blessing — the karma gods are smiling on the whole country, man.”
McKee said Kerlikowske knows the difference between cracking down on the illegal abuse of drugs and allowing the responsible use of marijuana.
Kerlikowske’s laissez faire approach toward low-level possession fits well with our region’s libertarian streak and its progressive attitudes toward medical marijuana, needle exchanges and other drug issues. Seattle has long been home to one of the largest Hempfests in the nation, where otherwise law abiding participants routinely light up in front of police officers without fear of arrest. Meanwhile, Kerlikowske’s predecessor, Chief Norm Stamper, has established himself since leaving office as one of the nation’s most outspoken advocates for comprehensive drug policy liberalization and reform. Yet despite the dire warnings of drug war hard liners, Seattle’s crime rate has dropped to a 40-year low during Kerlikowske’s tenure.
Kerlikowske’s office has not avoided controversy, particularly over accusations of lax discipline of officers, but he is widely admired. Speaking on our Podcasting Liberally podcast last night, Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, a former police officer, and current chair of the committee that oversees the police department, agrees that Kerlikowske is “no Bill Bennett,” and credits him for a “progressive” approach toward drug control issues:
Clearly the drug war as it has been waged traditionally in our country over the last 20, 30 years is not working, and there is a lot of collateral damage that’s unintended but is real, that is not helping us in that regard. Chief Kerlikowske himself has been advocating some diversion programs, pre-arrest strategies, that are quite progressive.
Of course, Kerlikowske is no Norm Stamper either, but given the history of the Drug Czar office, his appointment should hearten those advocating for a more humane, rational and effective national drug control policy.
Doesn’t federal law REQUIRE the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to OPPOSE any efforts to legalize marijuana? If so, then doesn’t that effectively gag him with respect to any legalization/regulation efforts, regardless of his personal preferences?
It kind of reminds me of the old Senate gag rule prohibiting debate on the issue of slavery during the 1850’s. If it was intended to prevent any movement to abolish slavery, or if it was designed to reduce civil discord over the issue, it certainly failed to achieve either purpose.
Seattle Jew spews:
Brilliant, rational, well deserved!!!!
This is one of the best decisions Obama has made.
zdp 189 spews:
Obama is letting go to waste Kerlikowske’s real passion and specialty, namely raiding strip clubs and running escort stings.
Just think what good this progressive cop could do if Obama would unleash him on the adult industry.
Pete Guither spews:
rhp6033. That’s correct. There’s no way he can be a force for reform and follow the law as established in the authorization from Congress, but he could be a far superior choice simply by not being a proactive drug warrior like Walters and McCaffrey and being quietly lax about the whole opposing legalization business. It would be a big change if he just stopped the ONDCP’s interference with state initiatives and lawmaking, and stopped pushing for more business for the drug testing industry, etc.
Maybe in 2010, we can change the language when the ONDCP is up for reauthorization.
HE SUCKED IN BUFFALO, REALLY SUCKED IN SEATTLE, AND I’M SURE HE’LL REALLY BE SUCKING OBAMA.
Good riddance to bad garbage, keep em moving and King County might be a nice place to live again one day
RonK, Seattle spews:
@ 1 — Far as I know, it’s still illegal to apply DoD funds to any study that contemplates defeat … but that hasn’t kept them from earnest war gaming (when they have the will).
Harry Callahan spews:
seattle is libertarian goldy? you’ve got to be joking. maybe when it comes to weed and gay bathhouse sex, but not when it comes to strip clubs, booze, nightlife, smoking and food. not to forget that we also have a mayor who wants to begin enacting gun bans and chief kerli is all in favor of bans on semi-auto rifles. that’s hardly libertarian and neither is the nosy attitude of many seattleites toward their neighbors.
also, chief kerli has not been in charge for 10 years, as you state. he’s at about 8.5 years now.
that said, kerli is an interesting choice for drug czar, but if that office becomes more progressive and stops lying about pot, i’ll eat a pound of cheeba in celebration.
Colonel Jocko 'Biff' O'Hanrahanrahan (Ret.) spews:
re 7: If someone’s neighbor is a gun-nut with enough weapons to level a small town, is it within the neighbor’s rights to take preemptive action against the unbalanced neighbor?
I say it is. If the law won’t control the gun-nut, the neighbor is morally obligated to.
How do I define a gun-nut? Someone with more pistols and semi-automatic weapons than is needed to protect their home.
How do I define what is enough? How many guns can a person fire safely and accurately at one time.
I would love to be a fly in the soup at a dinner with the Sheriff and the Chief.
Politically Incorrect spews:
“Gun control” means hitting your target.
As far as the drug laws and the drug wars are concerned, we need to legalize pot for sure. All we’re doing with the pot laws is turning people who like to enjoy a little intoxication not related to alcohol every now and again into crooks.
The war on marijuana is a waste of time and money: time for sane legalization of this substance.