We're cautiously optimistic that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will support Obama's drug policy reform agenda.
What gives us hope is the fact that Seattle has been at the cutting edge of harm reduction and other drug policy reform developments in the United States over the last decade. The city's needle exchange programs are well established and harm reduction is well integrated in Seattle's approach to local drug problems. Marijuana has been legal for medical purposes for a decade. In 2003, Seattle voters passed a ballot initiative making marijuana arrests the lowest law enforcement priority. And the King County Bar Association has demonstrated national leadership in exploring alternatives to current prohibitionist policies.
While Gil Kerlikowske has not spoken out in favor of any of these reforms, he is clearly familiar with them and has not been a forceful opponent. Given the high regard in which he is held by other police chiefs around the country, Mr. Kerlikowske has the potential to provide much needed national leadership in implementing the commitments that Barack Obama made during the campaign.
As a presidential candidate, Senator Obama said the "war on drugs is an utter failure" and that he believes in "shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that focus more on a public health approach." He also called for eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, and stopping the U.S. Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws.
That's not exactly a rousing endorsement, but not speaking out against drug policy reforms makes Kerlikowske superior to former Minnesota congressman Jim Ramstad, the main drug czar candidate to receive attention until today.