Drug Policy

The Next Drug Czar: Is the Best Good Enough?


Given the skimpy evidence of Gil Kerlikowske's drug policy views, I was eager to see what Norm Stamper, Kerlikowske's predecessor as Seattle's police chief and now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, had to say about the man President Obama reportedly has chosen to be his drug czar. But it turns out that Stamper, like other critics of the war on drugs, can only guess at how Kerlikowske will approach the job: 

Will the 36-year law enforcement veteran put the country on a path to more sensible drug policy?

I don't know….

He's intelligent, putatively progressive, and more inclined toward research and evidence than your average police administrator.

But will he be open to candid conversation about what the drug war has wrought, and what tomorrow's drug policy ought to look like? What's his current take on the drug war? I'm with Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance…

Nadelmann, as I noted yesterday, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Kerlikowske, based mainly on the police chief's experience with policies such as needle exchange, letting patients use marijuana as a medicine, and making arrests of pot smokers the city's lowest law enforcement priority. "He is clearly familiar with them and has not been a forceful opponent," Nadelmann said. Stamper adds: "One thing I know for sure about Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske? If Michael Phelps had bent over that bong in Seattle and not in Sheriff Leon Lott's Richland County, SC, he'd have nothing to fear but a foolish and fickle cereal maker."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer tosses a few more tidbits into this thin gruel:

He recently gave his blessing to a pilot program in drug-plagued Belltown for officers to send drug users to treatment or job centers instead of jail….

A 1998 state law allows debilitated and terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, but gives police departments wide latitude in whether to make an arrest.

Despite that, [Alison] Holcomb [drug policy director for the ACLU of Washington] said Kerlikowske's officers have "demonstrated compassion" in not arresting known growers and users in medical marijuana cases.

She also said his officers are respectful and tolerant when they patrol Hempfest, the city's annual celebration of drug-law reforms.

Treatment advocates praised Kerlikowske for setting a respectful tone emulated by the rank and file toward the city's many innovative services for addicts…

In 2003, the chief had initially opposed Initiative 75, a measure approved by Seattle voters that made enforcement of marijuana for adult personal use the lowest priority for police and city attorneys. But activists say he has since ordered his officers to implement the law.

The main thing Kerlikowske has going for him is the low standard set by the men who preceded him at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. As Nadelmann told the Post-Intelligencer, "He's likely to be the best drug czar we've seen, but that's not saying much."

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  1. Jesus, if he doesn’t eat puppies he’ll be the best drug czar we’ve seen

  2. Never thought I’d see the words “best” and “czar” used unironically in the same sentence on this site!

  3. Well, he already has a ready-made speech for when he retires:

    I did my best
    But I guess my best wasn’t good enough
    ‘Cause here we are back where we were before
    Seems nothing ever changes
    We’re back to being strangers
    Wondering if we oughta stay
    Or head on out the door

    Just once can’t we figure out what we keep doing wrong
    Why we never last for very long
    What are we doing wrong
    Just once can’t we find a way to finally make it right
    Make the magic last for more than just one night
    If we could just get to it
    I know we could break through it

  4. He’s a classic “good soldier.” He follows the law, he follows orders, and he does a very good job implementing policies he is told to implement. So the question remains, what will Obama do?

  5. I thought that with all the Change, Tommy Chong would be appointed instead of this guy.

  6. One mildly hopeful development in an otherwise abysmal first 100 days.

    Hurray I guess.


  7. Yeah well, I wouldn’t get too excited. In some ways I think Seattle is *more* of a police state than even Chicago. For instance, in The Loop, jaywalking is considered normal. People need to get to work on time, yet everybody is responsible and looks both ways when doing it.

    My second day visiting Seattle I almost get arrested for doing what I consider “normal” in the Windy City.

  8. My second day visiting Seattle I almost get arrested for doing what I consider “normal” in the Windy City.


    I’ve never heard of anyone cited for jaywalking here. I’ve accidentally jaywalked in front of police cars several times before.

    Unless you were downtown. But in downtown, jaywalkers can and do make life much harder on everyone.

  9. “Unless you were downtown. But in downtown, jaywalkers can and do make life much harder on everyone.”

    Yes I was downtown when this happened, and was spotted by a cop “guarding” a construction site.

    However, Chicago’s downtown is like… 10x busier so I don’t buy the “make life harder” argument.

    I suppose it’s flatter than Seattle and has more one-way streets.

  10. And seriously, you were not allowed to cross the street unless you were at government-designated cross walks and the walk signal was on. I thought myself in Germany and not the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised if people ended up in Rain Man like moments where they would stop in the middle of the street if it said “Don’t Walk”. Come to think of it, I think the cop told me to stop what I was doing while I was in the middle of the street.

  11. Why hasn’t the annointed one appointed Cheech and Chong drug czars. I mean that would improve the quality of life for all the druggies here wouldn’t it. I just hope he consulted with the Cali drug cartel for their recomendations.

    Now that would be change Obama promised.

    Hope, change, free drugs for all!

  12. Speaking as a bad Seattle driver, Seattle drivers aren’t good. Combined with the fact that downtown gets completely insane during rush hour, there’s just common consensus that jaywalking downtown is bad. The drivers can’t handle it, and a sudden stop of a car will lead to a mile long train of cars in crosswalks at the wrong time.

    Come to think of it, we really need to put this kind of info on tourist brochures. Along with other Seattle specific cultural norms:

    -don’t throw cig butts on ground. instead, completely extinguish and throw in trash

    -avoid eye contact. with everyone

    -no umbrellas. Outsiders use umbrellas.

  13. Wow, Seattle really is a fascist hellhole. With bad drivers.

  14. The people renting the boats at the lake were nice though… maybe it’s a down town thing?

  15. Huh. So Seattle is like Biloxi except that we use umbrellas. Though not when it is windy, natrually.

  16. Because you’re not allowed to stop traffic or litter? Truly it’s a nightmare society. Hell on Earth. That is why no one ever wants to move here.

  17. Hammer Head,

    No Chong has an arrest record, rememebr he was chucked in jail for 6 months for making Bongs?

    Seattle isn’t facist.

    I’ll agree witht eh shitty drivers, passive agressive, socailly reatarded, but not facist. Considering next to San Diego, LA and Humbult, we have one of the Largest HempFest in the US.

    For all of Seattle’s woes she’s good with the green.


    Medic 1

    We’re not called the Emerald city for nothing. 🙂

    Go to HEMP FEST!

  18. MAX Hats—you are so right.

    I’ve lived here for 3 years. I carry a small pocket umbrella for freak down pours of blinidng snow storms, but I havn’t used it yet lol.

    As for the drivers, Good goddess.

    Ever heard of a Turn Signal Seattle? Or merging? or NOT TAILGATING!

    People here Mock us Cali drivers for our “bad driving” Cali can drive, at 75mph with ear bud and screaming child in car, adn still manage NOT to tailgate or cut someone off.

    The State bird should be the middle finger.


  19. I know people involved with Hempfest and the WA medical marijuana scene who have worked with Kerlikowske first-hand; they seemed pretty thrilled, which seems a good sign. This may be the first good decision Obama’s made while in office.

  20. @MAX HATS

    Anti-lock brakes and horns. Street sweepers. Problem solved.

    You guys in Seattle probably don’t believe in salt trucks either.

  21. Another weird experience in Seattle:

    In most cities (Europe and the US included), it’s common courtesy to buy a cup of coffee at an establishment when you use their facilities–many places are explicit about this.

    So I order something at a cafe to use the washroom while I’m waiting for it to be ready. There’s only one stall available, and I wait patiently for it. Fifteen minutes later, the dude’s still using it, and during this time I’m hearing an unusually large number of splashing noises and toilet paper used.

    It turns out the dude was using the toilet and its paper as a sponge bath! I gave up waiting and had to use a bathroom somewhere else, and the coffee was cold by then. I guess the homeless shelters are full there?

  22. The talk of “treatment” for drug users and “harm reduction” sounds like recycled Janet Reno 1993. How did that work out, exactly?

  23. Hope springs eternal! In the old days, a lot of us assumed that once the Baby Boomers took control of politics, the drug war (sorry, the INSANE drug war) would wither away. Well, not only have we had baby boomers in the White House since 1992 but every damn one of them has smoked pot and/or done coke. And the drug war is as strong as ever.

  24. I think the US ought to liberalize its drug use policies. I wish Obama well.

  25. No clue about this ‘only one’s’ take on (some) drugs but he’s happy to strip you of your guns. If memory serves this boob lost his duty weapon some time back; it’s not been recovered and he’s not been charged with negligience…good luck to us all.

  26. Will libertarians never grasp that forced medical treatment is neither more enlightened nor less repressive than imprisonment? One can imagine the therapeutic state libertarians applauding the Soviets for putting dissidents in psychiatric facilities instead of prisons. The drug war began with self-medicalization being replaced by physician prescribing, and it will hardly be ended (or moderated) by giving physicians more control.

  27. Libertarian:

    Now we understand what coke and pot does to the mind! Great advertisement for legalization of drugs.

    Legalize drugs and you’re get more crazy idiots like Clinton, Bush, Obamie.

    That’s so cool.

    Next step, free lobotomies for druggies!

  28. Will libertarians never grasp that forced medical treatment is neither more enlightened nor less repressive than imprisonment?

    You’re new here, right?

    You’re right here, new?

    Take a look around these are the kind of “libertarians” who applaud government funded stem cell research and the positive right of State-sanctioned gay marriage.

  29. SIV:

    At last an intelligent sane voice.

    Those who advocate free drug use will reduce to the level of Mexico and Columbia. A corrupt state is fine with them so long as they can satisfy their every whim no matter how destructive to themselves or others.

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