The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will likely be Obama’s nominee for director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly referred to as the drug czar. It appears that we may soon be faced with the most promising drug czar ever to occupy the position.
To be clear, Kerlikowske is not a friend of drug policy reform to any extent I’m aware of. What matters here is that I see no evidence that he is a vicious drug warrior of the sort commonly associated with the drug czar post. Given that ONDCP is mandated to oppose reform efforts and has typically embraced that role, a less confrontational and reefer madness-driven drug czar is really the best case scenario from a drug policy reform perspective.
Under Kerlikowske, Seattle has been a model for sensible marijuana policy, including the famous Seattle Hempfest at which the Seattle Police Department performs a public safety role while declining to make marijuana arrests. Following the passage of a 2004 lowest priority initiative, the city’s already-low rate of marijuana prosecutions fell even further, suggesting that Kerlikowske was responsive to the will of voters.
In that sense, he offers a dramatic departure from ONDCP’s shameful history of undermining state medical marijuana laws and inserting itself into state politics for the purpose of thwarting reform efforts. In an office typically run by military officials and political hacks, Kerlikowske would bring expertise in community policing and public relations.
As drug czar, I have no doubt that Gil Kerlikowske would oppose drug legalization and serve as our primary opponent on many issues. Nevertheless, at first glance, my gut instinct is that after several drug czars from hell, a guy from Seattle doesn’t sound so bad.
Update: I'd be remiss not to mention that Kerlikowske's immediate predecessor was Norm Stamper.