Obama to Name Seattle Top Cop as Drug Czar

President Barack Obama will name Seattle Police Gil Kerlikowske as the nation's new Drug Czar. He will be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and it's a cabinet position.

A career cop, here's an interesting tidbit.

He has said he discovered his love for law enforcement in 1965 while fingerprinting criminals at a Florida jail.

Reactions from Drug law reformers:Not an ally by any means but we could have done worse: [More...]

To be clear, Kerlikowske is not a friend of drug policy reform to any extent I’m aware of. What matters here is that I see no evidence that he is a vicious drug warrior of the sort commonly associated with the drug czar post. Given that ONDCP is mandated to oppose reform efforts and has typically embraced that role, a less confrontational and reefer madness-driven drug czar is really the best case scenario from a drug policy reform perspective.

On the positive side:

Under Kerlikowske, Seattle has been a model for sensible marijuana policy, including the famous Seattle Hempfest at which the Seattle Police Department performs a public safety role while declining to make marijuana arrests. Following the passage of a 2004 lowest priority initiative, the city’s already-low rate of marijuana prosecutions fell even further, suggesting that Kerlikowske was responsive to the will of voters.

In that sense, he offers a dramatic departure from ONDCP’s shameful history of undermining state medical marijuana laws and inserting itself into state politics for the purpose of thwarting reform efforts. In an office typically run by military officials and political hacks, Kerlikowske would bring expertise in community policing and public relations.

The piece ends with:

....As drug czar, I have no doubt that Gil Kerlikowske would oppose drug legalization and serve as our primary opponent on many issues. Nevertheless, at first glance, my gut instinct is that after several drug czars from hell, a guy from Seattle doesn’t sound so bad.

So we could have done worse. Is that the new standard for someone we elected because he promised progressive change? "We could have done worse" is a phrase I associate with Republican appointments that weren't disasterous. Should we expect more from Obama?

Since I know nothing about Kerlikowske, I'll update this post as more reactions come in.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Why can't we get... (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by kdog on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 12:10:41 PM EST
    the drug czar laid off or outsourced or downsized or something...I mean are we at the abyss or aren't we?  

    There aer good reasons to have a drug czar (none / 0) (#13)
    by samtaylor2 on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 01:24:04 PM EST
    Meth, crack cocaine, heroin- these drugs are destroying communities throughout this country.  I would hope the focus could shift to these drugs vs. Marijuana or Ecstasy.  Prevention and research need to be added to the mix as important ways to decrease drug abuse.  

    Looking at the data on Prohibition, which we now look at as a bad idea, Prohibition was great for this country in terms of our overall health.  It saved more lives then gangsters killed people.


    Question. (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by jtaylorr on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 02:44:05 PM EST
    Would you rather have heroin addicts have to buy from drug dealers, thus helping to expand and support organized crime, and have a high chance of getting poorly synthesized heroin and possibly overdose and die, or would you rather have addicts be able to get a prescription from a doctor so that there's no chance of death, a la Switzerland?

    Remember, heroin is not toxic to the body. The only way one can die from heroin is overdosing.


    I think comparing ourselves to Switzerland (none / 0) (#29)
    by samtaylor2 on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:21:34 PM EST
    Doesn't make much sense in terms of our drug policies.  

    I am not sure where you got the idea that heroin isn't toxic?  Opiates are not so good for you. Besides people die from prescription drugs all the time.

    I wish I could give you the information on prohibition, it was an answer that the class asked during our lectures on drugs and drug abuse in school.  


    I think we need a czar czar (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by jondee on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 02:52:10 PM EST
    at this point; a Grand Vizier or a Sultan, or something.

    And, does anyone have anything resembling verifiable data that Prohibition ever "saved lives"? If so, lets see it.

    According to an oldtimer I know, there were more speakeasys in my city during Prohibition then there had been bars before it.


    Also (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by CST on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 02:59:31 PM EST
    Many people got sick from poisoned or "laced" booze because there was no authority regulating the quality.

    Drugs don't destroy anything... (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by kdog on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 03:12:51 PM EST
    addiction is a problem for communities and families and individuals.  Prohibition is not the way to battle addiction...education and treatment is....imo of course.

    Dija see Whitney Houston at the Grammys? (none / 0) (#22)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 03:16:59 PM EST
    She looked like she's in need of some of that education and treatment...

    Saw her picture in the paper... (none / 0) (#23)
    by kdog on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 03:37:43 PM EST
    thought she looked good actually, a lot better than the cracked-out super market rag pics of a few years back.  The caption said she sang at some party and brought the house down.

    Shoulda seen her live. (none / 0) (#24)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 04:06:01 PM EST
    Lit like a neon sign.

    She was wearing a nice dress, wig and makeup though...


    I see... (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 08:11:17 AM EST
    Well, it is her inalienable right, at least in my book.

    The best education you can get on crack or meth is looking closely at a crack or meth head...all I needed to see to know not to f*ck with it.


    True enough. (none / 0) (#33)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 12:24:25 PM EST
    You don't even have to look that close.

    As college kids we could see it on the faces and in the eyes of the strung-out street-corner hos in Newark as we passed them by on our way back home in NJ after a night of carousing NYC pubs.

    Whitney had that same look on stage at the Grammys...


    My neighborhhood in Queens... (none / 0) (#34)
    by kdog on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 09:13:05 AM EST
    had a little park we called "junkie park" where all the crack-heads, heroin junkies, and heavy-duty alcoholics hung out....the best education you could have on the horrors of addiction, and free of charge to boot.

    I'm always saying it is the reason in the decline of the use of crack since its heyday in the 80's...not all the costly arrests, not all the costly cops and DEA agents, not the lying DARE officer, not the "brain on drugs" commercials...your friendly neighborhood crack-head is who to thank.  Who wants to live like that?  And if you do, sun god bless ya, just don't rob or steal or else then we gotta lock ya up.


    The position itself is flawed (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Pete Guither on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 12:26:16 PM EST
    Unless you actually get rid of the position completely (which would be my preference, but probably difficult politically), you can't really put someone in there to do "good."  The reason is that the Congressional authorization for the position makes it clear that by law the Director of the ONDCP must oppose any drug policy reform.

    I suppose a President could appoint someone there to purposely break the law, but failing that, unless Congress is willing to change the authorization, about the best that can be done is someone who will do less harm.

    The ONDCP comes up for reauthorization September 30, 2010.  That would be a good time to either scrap it entirely, or re-purpose it.

    From another local news profile: (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by RonK Seattle on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 03:06:16 PM EST
    "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.

    Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle attorney and advocate for medical-marijuana patients, said his first preference would be for a physician to oversee national drug policy.

    But Kerlikowske would be a vast improvement over past drug czars, who have used the office to carry out the so-called "war on drugs," Hiatt said.

    Kerlikowske is a "very reasonable guy" who would likely bring more liberal policies to the job, Hiatt said.

    Seattle Times

    Another highly informative tidbit (5.00 / 4) (#26)
    by RonK Seattle on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 09:39:24 PM EST
    ... from Seattle  alt-weekly The Stranger.

    ... ... ... under Walters, the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors made a point of busting medical pot collectives in California. But for Kerlikowski, pot was his lowest priority.

    Hold on--Obama's not about to legalize pot.

    The bigger issue--and safer issue, politically--is replacing enforcement with public services. On that issue Kerlkowske has incubated a revolution. Seattle implemented two programs that get drug users off the street before they get arrested. Most notably, the Get Off The Streets (GOTS) program hatched in the Central District when Sergeant John Hayes (now a captain) set up a table as an arrest-free area that people with criminal warrants could come for health and human services. ... ...

    Refreshing (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by squeaky on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 09:48:53 PM EST
    A drug czar actually ok with solving problems rather than making believe that increasing arrests is solving problems.  

    Chatter from leading local progressive blog (2.00 / 1) (#25)
    by RonK Seattle on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 05:50:40 PM EST
    (Caveat: Comments trolled incessantly from every compass point.)

    Could Obama be less creative? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:26:08 AM EST
    No.  If there was a position to get rid of, Drug Czar was it.  Any title with a Czar in it, get rid of.  Seriously, is there one shred of evidence that this position results in anything but a monumental was to resources?

    Day after day, Obama is proving to me what a truly empty suit he is.  Bright, educated, personable, but completely incapable of going against the grain.  

    monumental WASTE of resources (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:26:43 AM EST
    Nice proofreading, Elmo.

    They haven't actually been called (none / 0) (#4)
    by tigercourse on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:31:30 AM EST
    Czars since the 80's. It's Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

    Oh I've heard the term plenty since then (none / 0) (#5)
    by Dadler on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:36:06 AM EST
    And the position is still a useless waste.

    as opposed to (none / 0) (#8)
    by NYShooter on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 12:07:08 PM EST
    useful waste.

    Another point in his favor: he is a protegy (none / 0) (#3)
    by esmense on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:27:52 AM EST
    of Norm Stamper, who, since his retirement, has spoken out strongly about the ways in which our drug policy has corrupted law enforcement. This isn't the same as supporting decriminalization, but it does start the conversation in the right direction for reform.

    If the American people... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Dadler on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:38:01 AM EST
    ...can't understand how utterly and ineffectively small this stimulus bill is/will be, and how much it is needed to stave off disaster, getting them to have a rational discussion about pot and speed and heroin is, in a word, impossible.  A populuace largely lacking the necessary critical thinking skills is a populace doomed.

    NOT a Stamper protege. (none / 0) (#14)
    by RonK Seattle on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 02:42:32 PM EST
    I was surprised to hear it (none / 0) (#7)
    by Inspector Gadget on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 11:48:44 AM EST
    his Seattle career hasn't been perfect, but he also doesn't seem to get a lot of press. Positive or negative.

    Recently, the Seattle police have shot and killed two young men who were behaving oddly in public. One was armed with a knife, the other with an empty rifle. The Chief wasn't necessarily blamed for the actions of the police on those two incidents, as I recall.

    I also heard recently that Ron Sims (the King County (Seattle) Executive) is being considered for something in the administration, as well. Not sure how either of these men ended up being candidates for WA DC jobs. I don't know either to be stand-outs.

    Maybe you should post about things (3.50 / 2) (#11)
    by shoephone on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 12:52:04 PM EST
    you actually know something about.

    Kerlikowski and the SPD do get a lot press, on a regular basis.

    As for the guy who was armed with "an empty rifle", that incident was well-reported. It took place in the University district (notorious for violent crime) and neighbors called the police to report that a group of people were firing off guns next door. When the police arrived the guy with the "empty rifle" stood in a doorway and pointed the weapon at the cops. There is no way in h*ll they (or anyone else) would have known it wasn't loaded.

    He was ordered to put down the weapon. He lowered the weapon and then immediately lifted it again and aimed it at the cops who shot him. That's what they are trained to do.

    It's very simple. Point at a gun at the cops and you will be shot. There is no way Kerlikowski or the SPD were at fault.

    But like I said, it helps to know the facts.


    Ahhh, so you were there (none / 0) (#12)
    by Inspector Gadget on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 01:22:08 PM EST
    You forget the part where a group of his close friends were screaming at the police to NOT shoot because that rifle was not loaded?

    Very imaginative of you (3.50 / 2) (#17)
    by RonK Seattle on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 02:54:35 PM EST
    The rifle was loaded - but with the blank rounds he had been firing about the neighborhood.

    Even if the rifle was not loaded, and the police (through their occult powers) knew it, his approach with the bayonet in close quarters would have required the same response.

    We may never known whether this was simple drunken idiocy or "suicide by cop" (police removed the same weapon from his possession in an earlier suicidal episode; his family successfully went over their heads to get it returned), but only reflexive cop-haters will find fault with police conduct in this incident.


    Ron Sims is an excellent administrator and (3.50 / 2) (#18)
    by esmense on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 02:59:26 PM EST
    an honest man willing to promote the common good and necessary over the merely popular. When he ran against Gregoire in the Democratic primary in 2000 he courageously proposed very progressive, sensible and much needed tax reform -- which unfortunately and of course doomed his chances. Washington state doesn't have an income tax and instead relies for about 50% of its tax revenue on a very unique Business & Occupation tax, the only one in the country that taxes GROSS sales rather than profits (and kicks in at a ludicrously small amount of sales). This tax -- which is assessed and passed on to consumers at every stage of production and distribution -- contributes greatly to the states very high cost of living. But, people tolerate it because, unlike an income tax, for most people it is a "hidden" tax. They think they are getting a free ride, but, of course, they are not. (Another irritating thing about the tax is that big players in the economy, like Boeing and Nordstrom, with lots of pull in Olympia, have finangled exceptions for themselves.) Anyway, Sims is a good guy, and the Obama administration should be grateful to have him.  

    Here is someone (none / 0) (#28)
    by JamesTX on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 10:23:03 PM EST
    who may not be totally rational about drug policy. But hey -- he fell in love while holding the hands of prisoners. This might not be so bad!

    So he'll promise to whip 'drug offenders' only (none / 0) (#30)
    by SeeEmDee on Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 07:29:25 AM EST
    5 times instead of the full course of ten? And some drug law reformers are singing Hosannahs because the Jubilee is here? Wake TFU!

    Look at that link Mr. Guither posted on the ONDCP. How do you like a Gub'mint agency having been required by Congress to lie to you? Use your tax dollars to do so? And worse, interfere in the democratic process, by using those same tax dollars to derail local attempts to bring sanity to the DrugWar, by propagandizing the public against legislation and referendums seeing to change the drug laws?

    This kind of 'activism' on the part of government makes a mockery of democracy, itself. Might as well not vote at all...which I am quite sure is part of the NeoCon Burkean philosophy behind such games. But it was Joe Biden who gave mid-wived the ONDCP; he's responsible for this particularly ugly baby. So, what's he gonna do about it?

    If only... (none / 0) (#32)
    by jefered on Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 08:33:59 AM EST
    If only the federal government spent as much resources controlling banks as they do controlling what I smoke, the country would be in a lot better shape.