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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Czar Struck: Obama’s Brilliant Pick for Drug Czar

Posted by on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Originally posted last night and bumped up to this morning.

Obama choosing Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to become the next drug czar in Washington, D.C., at first, looks like the same old beltway logic: cops and prison terms are the snake-oil cure for drug addictions. Some change, Obama. Right?

0a9c/1234406257-drug_bust_chart_us_dept_of_justice.jpgUnder Clinton’s and Bush’s drug czars, the United States experienced the steepest spike drug arrests in its history (contributing to the fattest swell of anti-drug spending). Drug arrests jumped over 80 percent since 1992. And despite the effort, the White House reports that drug use has risen.

Graphic via the Bureau of Justice.

But Kerlikowske, since he became chief in 2000, has been at the police department's helm while Seattle made some of the most aggressive reforms to drug enforcement allowed under federal law. He never stood in the way. And now Kerlikowske is poised to become the most influential person in federal government to set new drug laws.

The needle-exchange test: The Obama administration has already identified this as its most pressing drug issue. Last week, Obama sent American negotiators to the UN orders to reverse Bush’s block on needle exchange. He wants to allow clean needles—in Europe and in the US. What's Kerlikowske's record?

“There has been long-standing support in the community as a whole and from SPD for our continued operation of the needle exchange,” says James Apa, a spokesman for Seattle King County Public Health, which runs one of first and the nation's largest needle-exchange programs. Seattle IV drug users have some of the lowest HIV-infection rates in the country, he says. But acceptance of the controversial program hasn’t been that long standing.

“What we would find is that police would hang around the exchange site and watch who came and went,” says Kris Nyrop, former director of Street Outreach Services, a pioneering needle exchange group that operated a table in downtown Seattle in the late 1980s. “Their presence itself would be somewhat intimidating ... people would see four police officers halfway down the block and they would turn around and go home,” he says. “Harassment like that happened routinely up until the mid ‘90s.”

But under Kerlikowske, “It has been a laissez-faire thing and the police basically leave needle exchanges alone,” says Nyrop.

Pot arrests have plummeted under Kerlikowske’s watch. When he took office in 2000, Seattle police arrested 332 people for misdemeanor marijuana possession (.pdf); by 2006, the number had dropped to 148. Some of that decline is likely due to Seattle passing Initiative 75, which made marijuana enforcement the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority. But Kerlikowske didn’t try to block I-75. While City Attorney Tom Carr joined Bush’s Drug Czar John Walters at a press conference to oppose the measure—and Carr campaigned against the measure for months—Kerlikoske was mum. And after voters passed the law in 2003, SPD told a City Council Marijuana Policy Review Panel that “officers [had] been verbally advised during their roll calls that investigation and arrest of adults for possession of cannabis intended for personal use is to be their lowest priority.” At Hempfest—where tens of thousands of people smoke pot in unison—SPD sergeant Lou Eagle told a reporter, "We are not out there to enforce the marijuana laws." And medical-marijuana patients, who could still be arrested despite the state’s medical-pot law, found Kerlikowske fair. Had Kerlikowske chosen, SPD could have maintained or increased pot arrests. But he didn’t.

In striking contrast, Walters’s number-one priority was marijuana. “[N]o drug matches the threat posed by marijuana,” his office wrote in a letter telling federal attorneys to ratchet up prosecutions (.pdf). And 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 Lieutenant John Hayes (now a captain) set up a table as an arrest-free area that people with criminal warrants could visit for health and human services.

“That was, at that time, a very edgy approach, and the chief was willing to let one of his people staff the program,” says City Council Member Nick Licata, who soon seized on the idea, passing legislation to fund the project permanently. “It was a stage where Gil could have stopped it from [getting funding], but he allowed it go forward,” he says.

“He’s not saying we should do away with the drug war, but I think he recognizes that it has not been a success and I think he is open to other strategies,” Licata continues. “That may be due to some of his experiences here. Seattle may get some credit for exposing him to real-time experiments, such as I-75, as to what could happen nationally.”

And nationally, Kerlikowske could be a drug czar who pushes to lift the federal ban on funding needle exchange, stops the medical pot raids in California, overhauls our nonsensical anti-drug commercials, and enthusiastically seeks funding for drug-treatment programs.

The brilliance of Obama’s pick for drug czar is not just finding someone who is open to new strategies, but someone who nonetheless holds undeniable qualifications as a cop. Nobody can claim Kerlikowske is a public-health nut who doesn’t know the impact of drugs on the streets. Like many Americans, he agrees that drugs should be illegal. But he understands the place for low priorities and public health—and he's willing to step back where enforcement alone has failed.


Comments (46) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
You got kerlikowske's name spelt wrong in the first sentence.
Posted by andrew on February 11, 2009 at 7:36 PM · Report this
I would have preferred Bunny Colvin for Drug Czar.
Posted by Cedric Daniels on February 11, 2009 at 7:40 PM · Report this
Hah. I'd already fixed it! And it's kinda his fault for having such an impossible name.
Posted by Dominic Holden on February 11, 2009 at 7:42 PM · Report this
Kerlikowske also oversaw an increase in Constitutionally dubious undercover buy/bust operations.
Posted by DOUG. on February 11, 2009 at 7:46 PM · Report this
Dominic- You have a profound misunderstanding of the way Criminal Law works in this country. Obama can't "legalize" any drug. It is up to state and federal legislatures. There are three branches of government, young man. I strongly suggest you attend a middle school Civics course.
Posted by jesus, you are an idiot. on February 11, 2009 at 7:56 PM · Report this
Dear hilarious person @ 5) I encourage you to read the second-to-last paragraph, where I list four things Kerlikowske could do as drug czar. And obviously, Obama can't pass a law himself (he can make executive orders). Nor could the drug czar. But, speaking of a good civics course, I'm sure the classes of which you speak address the influence of the executive branch on Congress, right?
Posted by Dominic Holden on February 11, 2009 at 8:04 PM · Report this
Trolling your own blog post comments & responding


Posted by Yawn. on February 11, 2009 at 8:17 PM · Report this
Does the Drug Czar have a real title? I mean, is there an "Office for Problematic Substance Policy" or somesuch - or is there really a US executive branch position called this? Because that is really a funny title (this is me, focusing on the issues at hand. Yup. Focused.)
Posted by SeattleExile on February 11, 2009 at 8:17 PM · Report this
Yeah, only dweebs actually engage with their readers.
Posted by what? on February 11, 2009 at 8:28 PM · Report this
@8: head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

5 seconds on, you stoner!
Posted by mb on February 11, 2009 at 8:31 PM · Report this

When it comes to making progressive reforms, you gotta start somewhere. Kerlikowske is -- by far -- the most progressive-minded and reform-oriented person to hold this position, and for that, Obama gets a tip of the hat.

Sure, the hippies will bitch and moan that Cheech Marin wasn't tapped for the job. But let's pry the lips from the old bong for a second and face this groovy thing called "reality": Cheech (or anyone viewed as soft on crime, pro-drug, anti-law-enforcement etc) wouldn't have any cred in DC and would be unable to accomplish anything.

IMHO, Kerlikowske has what it takes to lead the nation out of the nightmarish quagmire that the War On Drugs has become. Policy reform is all about the baby steps, and I think that Baby is waddling in the right direction. Especially when you consider that just a few weeks ago, Baby was looking and acting a lot like the baby in Eraserhead.

Posted by Chihuahua Man on February 11, 2009 at 8:45 PM · Report this
Nominating this guy basically says "Light Up America".
Posted by Up In Smoke on February 11, 2009 at 8:56 PM · Report this
Cedric, you just wanted Bunny out of town!
Posted by McNulty on February 11, 2009 at 9:16 PM · Report this
@2 I saw the ass of Cedric Daniels in one of those episodes. It was weird. It looked like that white lady was going to stick a finger in there too.

Posted by Det. Bunk on February 11, 2009 at 9:18 PM · Report this
Let's face it...the Obama campaign was funded by the 1,000,000 gang soldiers contributing $25 via the web.

This is their reward: Obama will let them "conduct business" as they see fit.

Next step: he will start releasing prisoners to increase his voting public.
Posted by Rebloodican on February 11, 2009 at 9:21 PM · Report this
he has great presence, talks well - as in - educated.

Great choice - and - the first needle exchange in Seattle months were an ACT-UP project, which made the Health Dept. very angry.

After the very successful 6 month trial, the Health Dept stepped in and funded and pushed the project.

Of course, they take all the credit - despite the early angry objections and threats and angry bull shit. ... I was there on the inside.
Posted by Smith on February 11, 2009 at 9:21 PM · Report this
As was I Smith. I'd disagree with a little of your comment, but largely it's spot on.

Just reread this post and the comment from James Apa makes it sound like the Health Dept runs the nation's largest syringe exchange. That honor belongs to Chicago Recovery Alliance. Seattle does have two of the largest exchanges in the country (3 and 5) as of 2007.
Posted by Kris Nyrop on February 11, 2009 at 9:39 PM · Report this
Dominic, you've turned me from being disappointed that Obama nominated a cop (well, a cop manager) instead of someone with a public health, medical, or generally scientific background to feeling optimistic about the situation.

What do you think, as it pertains to Kerlikowske's potential appointment, of this analysis of the 1998 ONDCP Reauthorization Act that says it requires the ONDCP director is required to take action to oppose any effort to legalize any illegal drug? I understand that both he and Obama are very unlikely to support legalization, but what about others' efforts?

Pete Guither, the author of the blog post I cited wrote:

Now, let's take as a simple example, the issue of medical marijuana. If the government finds that marijuana Has "currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States" or "accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision," then by law, marijuana cannot remain in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which would immediately legalize it for medical purposes.

But by law, the drug czar must oppose any attempt to legalize the use (in any form).

Therefore, despite the fact that there is extensive evidence of medical marijuana's safety and effectiveness (including the fact that even the federal government supplies it to patients), and clearly the drug czar would know about all this information, he is required by law to lie about it.

The job description also means that since he must oppose any attempt to legalize, he has no choice but declare that the drug war is working, that legalization would fail, etc., regardless of any... facts.

He goes on to describe Congressman Ron Paul having asked GAO to investigate the misleading nature of ONDCP's lobbying activities, and after quoting the response, summarizes it as, "Since lying is in the job description of the ONDCP, there's no point in bothering to see whether they're telling the truth," and writes, "The next drug czar, even if appointed by a President who tepidly supports certain reform measures, will be constrained by the same job description defined by Congress."
Posted by Phil M on February 11, 2009 at 10:12 PM · Report this
Dominic, all well and good -- but where does Kerli stand on bacon?
Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball on February 11, 2009 at 10:30 PM · Report this
So, who's going to be our new Chief of Police?
Posted by levide on February 11, 2009 at 10:31 PM · Report this
Dear Kerlikowske-

Find some way to X the DEA. Number 1.
Posted by Redundant Colon on February 11, 2009 at 10:34 PM · Report this
Not a bad call... a close call, too. The Right call would have been ex-chief Stamper... who has put time, $$ & brain cells to work on the continuously failing "War on Drugs" (except for the ones from the registered corporations). ^..^
Posted by herbert browne on February 11, 2009 at 11:40 PM · Report this
Obama is willing to trade children's lives for votes.

By letting the "turn 'em loose Bruce" Mayor McCheesy Nickles drone police chief run Washington, gangbangers will have access to the chicken coop.
Posted by crakrus on February 11, 2009 at 11:56 PM · Report this
Stamper is an outsider, idiot who can't manage to velcro his own shoes. Just because he is pro-legalization does not make him qualified to do shit!

Do I need to remind you that he is responsible for the entire debacle that is/was WTO-Seattle? He sat in a 4-star restaurant and in a 'safe' office tower out of touch from the commanders on-scene during WTO and provided no leadership whatsoever. That is why he was thrown the fuck out.... way too late!

Stamper was never fit to be in charge of anything other than a freeform class at TESC!

Love Gil or hate Gil he's gone. Stamper would be lucky to be considered for a footnote in the Obama administration. Let's concentrate on making sure Gil's replacement is worthy!
Posted by stamper_drinks_phelps_bongwater on February 12, 2009 at 1:26 AM · Report this
This is a strange post. It gives credit to Kerlikowske for a series of things he didn't do, and then posits some revolutionary motive behind his inaction. It avoids mentioning bad things he did do-- expanded use of buy/ busts, undermining attempts to discipline cops who used excessive force during drug arrests. And then it overlooks the single biggest reason that Kerlikowske was appointed: friends with Holder, the new AG.

Altogether, a very strange exercise in wishful thinking about Kerlikowske being a closeted revolutionary. Like many of Obama's center-right Cabinet appointees, Kerlikowske has not personally espoused any strong leadership or new ideas for change, and he has shown an aversion to making choices that might get him criticized. Maybe he'll reverse a few Bush-era paleocon policies. But don't expect any radical shift where it matters-- more than token funding for alternatives, or any kind of action to reduce racial disproportionality, reform the criminal justice system, and end the mass incarceration of poor people for non-violent offenses.
Posted by Kerlikowske Won't Rock the Boat on February 12, 2009 at 2:04 AM · Report this
oh bullshit @24. Stamper was a fucking great chief who was undermined by the redneck old boys of the SPD and Paul Schell.
Posted by gnossos on February 12, 2009 at 2:06 AM · Report this
Mr. Holden you're doing a great job. A great job.
Posted by Sam Best on February 12, 2009 at 2:58 AM · Report this
This is a brilliant choice.

Did you hear they are getting David Duke to head the Civil Rights Commission.
Also brilliant.

And Rosie O'Donnel to chair the Council on Physical Fitness.
A natural.
Posted by Phelps should have sucked that bong in Seattle on February 12, 2009 at 6:23 AM · Report this
Whenever I think of him I think of Kris Kime, and I think of a stolen pistol....
Posted by I haven't forgotten about Kris Kime on February 12, 2009 at 9:10 AM · Report this
Obama: The Empty suit
Kerlikowske: The empty holster
Posted by Did someone mention Kris Kime? on February 12, 2009 at 10:19 AM · Report this
I bet you naive fags at Slog are getting sore knees and mouths from giving Obama constant blow-jobs all day.
Posted by Obasm on February 12, 2009 at 10:49 AM · Report this
Actually we give them to each other all day. No journalism. Just a lot of sucking. Can you tell?
Posted by Nothing SUCKS like SLOG on February 12, 2009 at 11:18 AM · Report this
Obama, as president, has the power to effectively legalize marijuana at the federal level. All he has to do is use his constitutional pardon power to issue a blanket pardon for all marijuana crimes in the past and in the future. Ron Paul promised to do so if he had been elected president.
Posted by Spencer on February 12, 2009 at 11:19 AM · Report this
Gil is a step forward. By the sound of some of these comments, I'm suprised they could even read... Some people are simple ignorant to reality. Keep up the good work Mr.Holden. Gil wont be perfect, he will be better than John Walters...

And, Don't respond bit*#ing about my spelling it just proves my point...
Posted by what happened to seattle NORML? on February 12, 2009 at 11:52 AM · Report this
The comments have 'sound' because you are moving your lips while you read.
Posted by duh on February 12, 2009 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Kris Kime + stolen pistol = incompetent.
Posted by Duh!!!! on February 12, 2009 at 1:58 PM · Report this
Oh Obama, suck suck suck, you are so Brilliant, suck slob gag suck slob suck, oh Obama, suck suck suck, oh, oh, Obama, Obama, how Brilliant you are, suck suck slob suck Obama, Obama, Obama, OBASM!!!!!!!
Posted by Dominic = totally gay for Obama on February 12, 2009 at 3:15 PM · Report this
Classy group.
Posted by Stay classy. on February 12, 2009 at 3:47 PM · Report this
stay stupid
Posted by how dare you criticize Obama or Girliekowske on February 12, 2009 at 4:00 PM · Report this

Nixon lied to schedule Ganja #1.

Vices Are Not Crimes by Lysander Spooner…

I. A Vindication Of Moral Liberty

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

In vices, the very essence of crime --- that is, the design to injure the person or property of another --- is wanting.

It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another. But no one ever practises a vice with any such criminal intent. He practises his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice toward others.

Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.

For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things. It is as absurd as it would be to declare truth to be falsehood, or falsehood truth. continued...

Jury Nullification

"One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by DdC on February 12, 2009 at 10:43 PM · Report this
seriously dude, you should stay away from the keyboard when you're stoned...
Posted by not groovy, man on February 13, 2009 at 3:03 AM · Report this
This pick is a baby step, Dont condem him yet. Our police are like children, (who do not know how to admit they have been wrong,) Lets support them and help them grow up, I tell everyone I know to visit the NORML site,(LOCAL NEWS PRESS) Its amazing how many anti-marijuana people come back and say they never heard the other side of the story. Support and educate our DEA children, As hard as it is on us. beating These children is like current law enforcement policy,(A loosing war) not an open minded Education.
Posted by JET on February 13, 2009 at 6:02 AM · Report this
Dont condemn him yet. Our police are like children, (who do not know how to admit they have been wrong,) These children is like current law enforcement policy,(A loosing war) not an open minded Education.

I favor the tiger theory of Rodney Dangerfield, eating their young or abortion as citizens, forfeiting their BOR like they do peoples houses. I used to say in the 90's before prop 215, when we passed measure A, that the cops don't come out of the box trained in not busting pot tokers, give em time. For almost 20 years as a hospice home health aid cannabis caregiver whatever, I've never had a problem with cops. They sometimes come with the coroner and I tell them the patient used Ganja and its not a problem. Never in 40 years of almost daily toking have I had a problem with cops, never busted because I don't sell it and I try to keep my name out of the headlines. So I know they aren't totally void of compassion or sense. They choose stupidity as a way around the initiatives. So if local cops can "see" then highly trained narkoslut DEAth Merchants can too. Times way up. Any moron can see Ganja has medicinal value, isn't addictive and poses no threat to society and still for 40 years they continue the lie. I don't believe anyone is that stupid and if they are they certainly shouldn't be toting live weapons.

New drug bizczar

Michael Phelps, Hypocrisy, & American Dr…

'Insane' Sheriff... with a Tank

Boycott Killoggs (Michael Phelps thread)
Canada joins Boycott / MMM 5.2.9 \ D.C. Convergence 7.4.9

Kathleen Parker: Snap, Crackle, Pot
Washington Post OpEd about Phelps, Lott, and the drug war, and she speaks with Howard Wooldridge of LEAP.

Drink and drive and it's grrrrrrrr-eat! Smoke pot and your flakes are frosted, dude. So seems the message from Kellogg's, which has decided not to renew its sponsorship contract with Michael Phelps after the Olympian was photographed smoking marijuana at a party in South Carolina.

That's showbiz, of course, but the cereal and munchie company had no problem signing Phelps despite an alcohol-related arrest. full story...
Posted by DdC on February 14, 2009 at 1:44 PM · Report this
No prosecutions in Phelps 'case'
Monday, February 16, 2009

Durring a news conference, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said there is not enough evidence to prosecute anyone involved in the Michael Phelps marijuana case. Monday's news conference puts an end to speculation if Phelps would be charged with smoking marijuana in Richland County.



Marijuana: The Miracle Drug
Posted by DdC on February 16, 2009 at 8:09 PM · Report this
You mis-SPELLED, spell...not spelt...and your correcting spelling. Go smoke another! I AM!!
Posted by Michael on March 11, 2009 at 8:15 AM · Report this
@26 -- agreeing that Stamper has been a great FORMER chief ... his drug enforcement policies and approach to misconduct investigation were no better than those under chief Kerlikowske. For someone who has such a sweeping critique of the War on Drugs, he ran it in standard fashion while he was chief. Haven't seen anyone asking Stamper hard questions on the issue of why HE didn't figure out a way to do it differently.
Posted by just killing time on March 22, 2009 at 2:48 AM · Report this

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