ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske's Model for Enlightened Drug Policy: Nancy Reagan


The December 27 issue of The Nation features a cover package of drug policy articles, several of which are available online to nonsubcribers, including contributions from the Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann and the Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer. While the cover boldly urges, "DARE to End the War on Drugs," the inside headline calls for a much less ambitious "rebalancing" of drug policy, which drug czar Gil Kerlikowske claims to favor  in an interview with Sasha Abramsky. In Kerlikowske's view, what does this "rebalancing" entail? Spending more money on "prevention and treatment"—and also on drug law enforcement, since "it shouldn't be an either/or, to take away money from interdiction or some other part." He explains that it's "incredibly simplistic" to "characterize the drug efforts of the government…with some type of definition of where the money is going." The Obama administration's more nuanced approach, Kerlikowske says, means recognizing that terms like the war on drugs "do not apply very well to the complexity of the drug problem." It also means "talking about addiction as a disease"—a disease that, unlike diabetes or cancer, can get you arrested. But if you don't arrest drug users (or at least threaten to arrest them), how can you force them into treatment? Busting them is the compassionate thing to do. And how's this for nuance: Asked to identify the drug war's "major sucesses," Kerlikowske cites "'Just Say No' under Nancy Reagan."

In February I noted that President Obama's drug control budget was virtually indistinguishable from his predecessor's, except that he wanted to spend even more money on a crusade he once called "an utter failure." I discuss the hopes that Kerlikowske would be a kinder, gentler drug warrior here, here, here, and here.

[Thanks to Tom Angell for the tip.]