NORML, like most drug law reform organizations, waited with bated breath to learn who President Obama would nominate as the nation’s next Drug Czar. We now know that Obama has named former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske for this position, and that he has accepted the President’s nomination.
Today, we join with many of our colleagues in expressing a cautious optimism that Mr. Kerlikowske will bring science and compassion to an office that, for far too long, has lacked either.
Why are we optimistic? As I explain in today’s edition of The Hill‘s influential Congress blog:
Does Obama’s Pick Signal ‘Change’ At The Drug Czar’s Office?
via The Hill.com
[excerpt] On the positive side, Kerlikowske hails from Seattle — a city that has elected to make the enforcement of 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. Consequently, there are now fewer marijuana-related arrests in Seattle than in virtually any other major city in the United States.
At first glance, Kerlikowoske also appears to take a tolerant approach toward the medical use of marijuana. Since 1999, Washington state law has allowed for the possession, cultivation, and doctor supervised use of marijuana under state law. (Twelve additional U.S. States have similar laws.) Whereas Kerlikowske’s White House predecessor (John Walters) refused to even acknowledge that cannabis possessed even the slightest hint of therapeutic value, Seattle’s exiting police chief accepted the law and has made few, if any, efforts to undermine it.
It’s also worth mentioning that Seattle is home to the annual Seattle Hempfest, a several hundred thousand person gathering in Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park. Organizers of the event have consistently praised the attitudes of the city’s police force for treating the event’s attendees with the utmost respect and tolerance.
There are other reasons to believe that the nomination of Kerlikowske represents something more than just be politics as usual. NORML Board Members Dominic Holden, a Seattle native, and Norm Stamper — who served as Seattle Police Chief prior to Kerlikowske’s appointment in 2000 — touch on many of these reasons here and here.
Of course, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As I wrote in The Hill, “Kerlikowske is first and foremost a cop. He’s served 36 years in law enforcement, and it would be foolish to assume that he will embrace the public’s desire to amend America’s antiquated and overly punitive pot policies with open arms.” Kerlikowske must also be approved by the members of the U.S. Senate, many of whom remain woefully unenlightened of the public’s demand for rational drug policies.
So here’s your chance to tell them. As I’ve written before, The Hill is widely read by lawmakers and by the mainstream media. That’s why NORML is asking you to take time today to comment on my latest editorial. Tell Congress that it is high time America confirms a Drug Czar who will demand reason before rhetoric, and who will put the interests of people before prisons.
President Barack Obama promised “change” inside the Beltway, and nowhere is change more sorely needed than in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. What changes would you like to see? Write The Hill and join the discussion.