#403 White House Czar Calls For End To ‘War On Drugs’

Date: Thu, 14 May 2009
Subject: #403 White House Czar Calls For End To ‘War On Drugs’

WHITE HOUSE CZAR CALLS FOR END TO ‘WAR ON DRUGS’

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #403 – Thursday, 14 May 2009

Readers of The Wall Street Journal today will find a headline and
article which would have seemed unlikely last year even after the election.

The Wall Street Journal competes with USA today for the top U.S.
circulation spot with a circulation of over two million copies. The
newspaper reaches an audience which is more influential. Articles and
opinion items which question the war on drugs appear to be increasing
as may be seen at http://www.mapinc.org/source/Wall+Street+Journal

News items about our new drug czar are found at http://www.mapinc.org/people/Kerlikowske

Both are worthy targets for your letters to the editor.

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Page: A3

Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Contact: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com

Author: Gary Fields

WHITE HOUSE CZAR CALLS FOR END TO ‘WAR ON DRUGS’

Kerlikowske Says Analogy Is Counterproductive; Shift Aligns With
Administration Preference for Treatment Over Incarceration

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants
to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move
that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in
trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday
the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug
issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’
or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said.
“We’re not at war with people in this country.”

Mr. Kerlikowske’s comments are a signal that the Obama administration
is set to follow a more moderate — and likely more controversial —
stance on the nation’s drug problems. Prior administrations talked
about pushing treatment and reducing demand while continuing to focus
primarily on a tough criminal-justice approach.

The Obama administration is likely to deal with drugs as a matter of
public health rather than criminal justice alone, with treatment’s
role growing relative to incarceration, Mr. Kerlikowske said.

Already, the administration has called for an end to the disparity in
how crimes involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine are dealt with.
Critics of the law say it unfairly targeted African-American
communities, where crack is more prevalent.

The administration also said federal authorities would no longer raid
medical-marijuana dispensaries in the 13 states where voters have made
medical marijuana legal. Agents had previously done so under federal
law, which doesn’t provide for any exceptions to its marijuana
prohibition.

During the presidential campaign, President Barack Obama also talked
about ending the federal ban on funding for needle-exchange programs,
which are used to stem the spread of HIV among intravenous-drug users.

The drug czar doesn’t have the power to enforce any of these changes
himself, but Mr. Kerlikowske plans to work with Congress and other
agencies to alter current policies. He said he hasn’t yet focused on
U.S. policy toward fighting drug-related crime in other countries.

Mr. Kerlikowske was most recently the police chief in Seattle, a city
known for experimenting with drug programs. In 2003, voters there
passed an initiative making the enforcement of simple marijuana
violations a low priority. The city has long had a needle-exchange
program and hosts Hempfest, which draws tens of thousands of hemp and
marijuana advocates.

Seattle currently is considering setting up a project that would
divert drug defendants to treatment programs.

Mr. Kerlikowske said he opposed the city’s 2003 initiative on police
priorities. His officers, however, say drug enforcement — especially
for pot crimes — took a back seat, according to Sgt. Richard O’Neill,
president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. One result was an
open-air drug market in the downtown business district, Mr. O’Neill
said.

“The average rank-and-file officer is saying, ‘He can’t control two
blocks of Seattle, how is he going to control the nation?’ ” Mr.
O’Neill said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, the lone senator to vote against Mr. Kerlikowske, was
concerned about the permissive attitude toward marijuana enforcement,
a spokesman for the conservative Oklahoma Republican said. [drug war]

Others said they are pleased by the way Seattle police balanced the
available options. “I think he believes there is a place for using the
criminal sanctions to address the drug-abuse problem, but he’s more
open to giving a hard look to solutions that look at the demand side
of the equation,” said Alison Holcomb, drug-policy director with the
Washington state American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Kerlikowske said the issue was one of limited police resources,
adding that he doesn’t support efforts to legalize drugs. He also said
he supports needle-exchange programs, calling them “part of a complete
public-health model for dealing with addiction.”

Mr. Kerlikowske’s career began in St. Petersburg, Fla. He recalled one
incident as a Florida undercover officer during the 1970s that spurred
his thinking that arrests alone wouldn’t fix matters.

“While we were sitting there, the guy we’re buying from is smoking pot
and his toddler comes over and he blows smoke in the toddler’s face,”
Mr. Kerlikowske said. “You go home at night, and you think of your own
kids and your own family and you realize” the depth of the problem.

Since then, he has run four police departments, as well as the Justice
Department’s Office of Community Policing during the Clinton
administration.

Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports
legalization of medical marijuana, said he is “cautiously optimistic”
about Mr. Kerlikowske. “The analogy we have is this is like turning
around an ocean liner,” he said. “What’s important is the damn thing
is beginning to turn.”

James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the
nation’s largest law-enforcement labor organization, said that while
he holds Mr. Kerlikowske in high regard, police officers are wary.

“While I don’t necessarily disagree with Gil’s focus on treatment and
demand reduction, I don’t want to see it at the expense of law
enforcement. People need to understand that when they violate the law
there are consequences.”

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor http://www.mapinc.org

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