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Federal Budget: Economic Stimulus Bill Stimulates Drug War, Too

Law enforcement was among the winners in the massive economic stimulus bill passed last week by Congress and signed this week by President Obama. The package includes nearly $3.8 billion for state and local law enforcement, much of it destined for enforcing the country's draconian drug laws.
may be coming to a police force near you soon
The biggest single chunk of police money in the bill, $2 billion, goes to fund the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. While Byrne JAG grant funds may be used for a variety of state and local criminal justice programs, including drug courts and drug treatment programs, the bulk of Byrne JAG spending has gone to fund multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces.

The Byrne JAG program has been criticized by fiscal conservatives and progressive reformers alike as ineffective and a waste of money. The Bush administration tried repeatedly to zero out funding for the program, but it was always reinstated -- albeit sometimes at lower levels -- by the Congress.

The second largest chunk of police spending in the bill, $1 billion, is for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. It will pay to put thousands more police officers on the street.

The bill also includes $225 million in state and local law enforcement grants "to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system" and another $225 million for law enforcement assistance to Indian tribes. There is another $40 million in grants "to provide assistance and equipment" to police agencies along the Mexican border, with $10 million of that allocated for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for its Project Gunrunner aimed at reducing gun smuggling into Mexico. Another $125 million is destined for rural states and rural areas to prevent and combat crime, "especially drug-related crime."

Cops and elected officials are already salivating and have created huge wish lists. The public safety wish list from the US Conference of Mayors totaled $5.5 billion and includes items such as $1.6 million for SWAT equipment, $56,000 for military grade rifles, $625,000 for unmanned aerial surveillance drones, and $130,000 for "covert operations" in Arlington, Texas; $600,000 for a "live fire" SWAT team practice house and $420,000 for a SWAT armored vehicle in Sparks, Nevada; $3.5 million for "Air Tactical Unit Support and Equipment" (read: cool new helicopter) for Hampton, Virginia; and $60,000 for five "tactical entry rifles" and other equipment in Ottawa, Iowa. (See more wish list examples at Radley Balko's The Agitator.)

Law Enforcement: DEA Spent $123,000 on Administrator's Flight to Colombia

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a fleet of 106 airplanes, but instead of using one of them, the agency spent $123,000 to fly Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart to Colombia last fall, the McLatchy Newspapers reported Monday. Oh, and it paid another $5,830 to a contractor to arrange the flight with an outside company.
Big Spender: DEA acting administrator Michele Leonhart
The trip came as the nation was sliding into its worst economic crisis in recent memory and the federal budget deficit was approaching heretofore unknown territory. It came just weeks before Detroit auto executives were royally reamed by Congress for flying to Washington in their corporate jets to beg for bailouts.

"Was it excessive? I guess you could look at it that way, but I don't think so," said William Brown, the special agent in charge of the agency's aviation division. He explained that the plane that would normally carry Leonhart was undergoing scheduled maintenance. "I understand the concern about costs for these things. But we do our best to keep costs under control. I think the DEA is very conservative compared to other agencies."

Typically, if a DEA plane is not available for official trips, the agency can borrow one from another federal agency. Although Brown had a week to prepare for the trip, he said he did not even consider that. "It would definitely be more cost effective for us to borrow somebody else's resource," he said. "But they're going to have to pay for it, as well."

Another option would have been a commercial airliner, but Brown said Leonhart and other officials were under "specific threat" in Colombia. But he refused to be more specific, and an unnamed US Embassy official in Bogota said he was unaware of any specific threats.

While the $123,000 flight was only a drop in the DEA's budget, it raised a red flag, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It looks bad," Ellis said. "Clearly, the DEA or any federal agency should be watching their budgets more closely in these difficult times."

A Failed Drug Strategy Isn’t the Only Way DEA Wastes our Money

Looks like someone forgot to tell DEA about the economic crisis:

WASHINGTON — The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration spent more than $123,000 to charter a private jet to fly to Bogota, Colombia, last fall instead of taking one of the agency's 106 planes.

The DEA paid a contractor an additional $5,380 to arrange Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart's trip last Oct. 28-30 with an outside company.

The DEA scheduled the trip as the nation was reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and the national debt was climbing toward $10 trillion. Three weeks later, lawmakers slammed chief executive officers from three automakers for flying to Washington in private jets as Congress debated whether to bail out the auto industry. [McClatchy]

Of course, a DEA official assures us that this was all necessitated by a security threat:

Brown said the administrator couldn't have taken a commercial flight because she and other officials who were traveling with her were under "specific" threat in Colombia at the time. He wouldn't reveal details about the threat, saying only that it was of a "sensitive law-enforcement nature." He added that the threat prompted him to conclude that "a government aircraft would provide a level of security not available on a commercial aircraft."

Makes sense, but…

A U.S. official in Colombia, however, said that officials there weren't aware of any threat against Leonhart other than the general insecurity in the country due to the drug trade.

Interesting. Seriously, how much longer is going to take the Obama Administration to replace Michele Leonhart? Crap like this is nothing compared to the medical marijuana raids, but it serves as yet another reminder that DEA is a rogue agency that just does whatever it wants all the time.

Brief the Chief!

Dear friends,

President Obama has finally selected a Drug Czar, and thanks to your advocacy, he may be the most reasonable person to ever fill that post. This is his story in a nutshell:

During a summer day in Seattle eight years ago, a feeling of uncertainty hung in the air over Myrtle Edwards Park. So did a lot of marijuana smoke.

More than 100,000 people had gathered for the city's 10th annual Hempfest. There was a new police chief in town, and nobody was sure what to expect. Nonetheless, the clock hit 4:20pm and the park filled with a haze.

How many marijuana arrests were made at Hempfest that year? Only one.

Thus began Gil Kerlikowske's career as Seattle's police chief. Under his watch, the city embraced more sensible drug policies: establishing needle exchange programs, openly discussing alternatives to prohibition, protecting the rights of medical marijuana patients, and making marijuana possession the lowest priority for law enforcement. While the chief didn't create these forward-thinking policies, he stood by them.

And now, if he is confirmed by the Senate, he'll be standing by President Obama.

While we would have preferred a public health specialist to someone in law enforcement, this new "Drug Czar" could very well pave the way to more sensible and humane drug policies. But to ensure that he does, we must "brief the chief"!

After signing the petition, you'll be directed to a page where you can purchase him a welcome gift from a wide selection of books and DVDs that question the wisdom of the Drug War.

Could this be the first Drug Czar to have a copy of How to Legalize Drugs on his book shelf? It may be a long shot, but as Louis Brandeis once said: "Most of the things worth doing... had been declared impossible before they were done."

Cautiously optimistic,

Micah Daigle, Associate Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

P.S. Fun Fact: The police chief of Seattle who preceded Kerlikowske became an outspoken member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Maybe there's just something sensible in that Pacific Northwestern air...

Washington, DC
United States

Breaking News - Obama's Drug Czar

You Can Make a Difference


Dear friends,

I wanted you to be the first to know -- we just confirmed in the last hour that President Obama selected Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to be his drug czar.

While we’re disappointed that President Obama has selected another law enforcement official instead of a major public health advocate, we’re cautiously optimistic that this nominee will support the president’s drug policy reform agenda.

What gives us hope is that Seattle has been at the cutting edge of harm reduction and other drug policy reform developments including:

  • Being among the first cities to implement syringe exchange programs;
  • Legalizing medical marijuana ten years ago (statewide);
  • Categorizing marijuana arrests as the lowest law enforcement priority; and
  • Implementing innovative overdose prevention strategies.

Kerlikowske is clearly familiar with drug policy reforms, and has not been a forceful opponent. Although a police chief may not be an ideal pick, given President Obama's call for "shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public health approach," we remain hopeful that he has the potential to provide much needed national leadership in implementing the president's campaign commitments.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that he fulfills President Obama's promises to treat drug abuse as a public health issue, lift the federal ban on funding syringe access, eliminate the disparity between sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, and stop the raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in California.  

It's a potentially transformative moment. Together, we’ll make sure Kerlikowske follows through.


Ethan Nadelmann
Executive Director
Drug Policy Alliance Network

Washington, DC
United States

Urge Obama to commute like Lincoln!

Families Against Mandatory Minimums logo


Friends --

Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.  While most people know that Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the Union, many don’t know that he was also one of the most generous presidents when it came to granting pardons and commutations.

In one term, Lincoln granted almost 400 commutations and pardons.  Lincoln gave clemency to everyday offenders, Southern sympathizers, draft dodgers, and wrongfully-charged Indians.  He had a weakness for weeping mothers who, in those days, could walk right into the White House and beg for mercy for their sons at the president’s knee.  As many of you know from personal experience, it’s not so easy to get a clemency request into the White House today, and it is much harder to get one granted. 

Lincoln also used clemency strategically, to inspire Congress to act.  At the end of the war, he pardoned ex-Confederates as a way of telling Congress to put differences aside and start rebuilding the country. 

Join us today in asking President Obama to do as Lincoln did:  to grant clemency generously and strategically.  By doing so, he will send a strong message to Congress that mandatory minimum sentencing laws are undermining American principles of justice and must be changed.  President Obama needs to know how much normal, everyday offenders and their families are counting on clemency, so help FAMM by writing to him now!   Click here to send a letter or email to President Obama.

My best,


Julie Stewart
Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Pain Management: FDA to Tighten Regulation of Extended-Release and Patch Opioid Meds

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is beginning a "massive new program" to reduce overdoses, diversion, and inappropriate use of powerful opioid pain relievers, especially targeting extended-release and patch formulations of fentanyl, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. On Monday, the FDA announced it had sent letters to 16 drug companies who produce the 24 listed products informing them they would now have to create a Risk Evaluation and Management Strategy (REMS) "to ensure that the benefits of the drugs continue to outweigh the risks."

That means physicians are likely to face new procedures in prescribing the drugs, and patients are likely to face more hurdles in obtaining them, an FDA official said at a Monday press conference. But pain patients already face serious obstacles in obtaining relief. The FDA action comes in the context of a campaign by the DEA to crack down on doctors it deems to have improperly prescribed large amounts of opioid pain medication -- even though prescribing what at first glance appear to be extremely large amounts is well with standard pain relief practice. Physician's fears of being prosecuted have contributed to what pain patient advocates describe as a crisis in chronic pain relief.

"Pain patients aren't drug abusers looking for a prescription fix," said Gregory Conko, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which teamed up with the Pain Relief Network last May to create the Politics of Pain campaign to fight for patients' access to sufficient pain medications. "It's a genuine tragedy that the DEA often treats them and their doctors as if they were. It's as though the agency just doesn't care whether its single-minded waging of the war on drugs imposes collateral damage."

The Politics of Pain campaign has collected personal stories from physicians and patients who have explained firsthand how difficult it can be to either offer or find sufficient treatment for pain conditions. In one video interview, Gulf War veteran James Fernandez and his wife tell their story of how he, once a robustly healthy US Marine, is now virtually confined to his home because of severe, ongoing pain that has been under-treated for years.

In another interview, Dr. Alexander DeLuca, a board-certified specialist in addiction medicine, describes the obstacles faced by a physician trying to deliver the "standard of care" called for by his own medical training. According to DeLuca, virtually no patients in the country today receive proper treatment for chronic pain.

Still, there are a lot of pain pills out there. Last year, US pharmacies dispensed 21 million prescriptions for the 24 medications listed to 3.7 million patients. "This is a very extensively used group of medications," said Dr. John Jenkins, director of the FDA's Office of New Drugs at its Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "This will be a massive new program."

Jenkins said that abuse, misuse, and accidental overdoses involving those products had been on the rise over the last decade, and the agency is concerned about doctors inappropriately prescribing them for patients who are not suffering moderate or severe chronic pain.

"We continue to see case reports where someone with a sprained ankle receives a fetanyl patch or extended-release opioid," Jenkins said.

Dr. Bob Rappaport, director of FDA's division of anesthesia, analgesia, and rheumatology products, told the press conference the agency was also deeply concerned with the rising non-medical use of the opioids. He cited a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report released Monday that showed some 5.2 million people said they had used prescription opioids for non-medical purposes in the past month, and that the figure among 18-to-24-year-olds had increased from 4.1% in 2002 to 4.6% in 2007.

"This is an ongoing problem, and it's getting worse," Rappaport said.

Forcing the drug manufacturers to submit REMS plans is "our attempt to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks," Jenkins said. The agency will seek to find an "appropriate balance between legitimate patient need for such drugs and the threats caused by the abuse and misuse," he added.

But tighter regulation isn't going to happen right away; a series of meetings with various stakeholders over the coming months are being set up to arrive at final regulations, said Jenkins. They will include patient advocates, health care professionals, the pharmaceutical companies, and law enforcement. The first meeting with manufacturers is set for March 3. Hopefully the concerns of patient advocates get heeded and successfully addressed, but it's not clear whether that is even possible with a venture of this nature given the current enforcement climate.

Feature: It's Time for a New Drug Policy Paradigm, Say Latin American Leaders

A blue-ribbon commission of Latin American leaders has issued a report saying that the US-led war on drugs has failed and it is time to consider new policies, particularly treating drug use as a public health problem and decriminalizing marijuana. The report is an attempt to intervene not only in Latin American, US, and European drug policy debates, but also in the United Nations' ongoing 10-year review of global drug policies, which will culminate next month in a ministerial meeting in Vienna.
The report, Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift, is the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, a 17-member panel that includes former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria. Other commission members include the writers Paulo Coelho, Mario Vargas Llosa, Sergio Ramírez and Tomás Eloy Martínez as well as leading scholars, media members and politicians.

Latin America is the leading exporter of both cocaine and marijuana. As such, it has faced the ravages of heavy-handed American anti-drug interventions, such as Plan Colombia and earlier efforts to destroy the Bolivian coca crop, as well as the violence of drug trafficking organizations and politico-military formations of the left and right that have grown wealthy off the black market bonanza. And while the region's level of drug consumption has historically been low, it is on the rise.

"The main reason we organized this commission is because the available evidence indicates the war on drugs is a failed war," said Cardoso at a Wednesday press conference in Rio de Janeiro to announce the report. "We need a different paradigm to cope with the problem of drugs. The power of organized crime is undermining the very foundations of democracy in some Latin American countries. We must acknowledge that these policies have failed and we must break the taboo that prevents us from discussing different strategies."

In the report, the commission calls for more humane and effective drug strategies. It emphasizes the following broad themes:

  • Treat drug use as a public health issue;
  • Reduce consumption through information and prevention actions;
  • Focus on enforcement against organized crime.

The commission also called on governments and civil society around the globe to "assess in the light of public health and advanced medical science the possibility of decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal consumption."

"We need to break the taboo that's blocking an honest debate," Cardoso said, repeating one of the phrases of the day. "Numerous scientific studies show that the damage caused by marijuana is similar to that of alcohol or tobacco," said the well-respected former Brazilian leader.

"Decriminalization is only part of the solution," warned former Colombian President Gaviria. "You need to do what the Europeans are doing, which is helping addicts. That's what the US doesn't do; it just puts them in jail," he scolded. "You tripled the jail population in the US in the last 20 years because of prohibitionism. The half million people in jail because of drug consumption, is that reducing consumption?" he asked. "The excuse is that people commit crimes to get money, but you deal with that putting addicts under a doctor and helping them with their problem."

The commission has three objectives, said Gaviria. "We want to create a Latin American policy around the consumption of drugs, we want to promote a debate in the US -- we are very concerned that there is no real public debate on the politics of drug trafficking in US politics -- and we want the European Union countries to take more responsibility for drug consumption," he said. "They are not doing enough to reduce the consumption of drugs."

"This report represents a major leap forward in the global drug policy debate," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who addressed a commission session in Bogotá last September. "It's not the first high-level commission to call the drug war a failure, nor is it the first time any Latin American leader has criticized the prohibitionist approach to global drug control. But it is the first time that such a distinguished group of Latin Americans, including three highly regarded ex-presidents, have gone so far in their critique of US and global drug policy and recommendations for what needs to be done."

The commission report is on "the cutting edge" of the global drug policy debate, said Nadelmann. "This is evident in its call for a 'paradigm shift,' in its recognition of the important role of harm reduction precepts and policies, in its push for decriminalization of cannabis, and in its critique of 'the criminalization of consumption.'"

Now it is on to Vienna -- and beyond -- said commission members. It is past time for a new approach, not only in the US, but internationally, they said.

"We hope the meeting in Vienna will not produce a result like previous meetings, where they just kept pushing back the date on which drugs will disappear," said Rubem Cesar Fernandes of the civil society organization Viva Rio. "The main discussion in Vienna should be whether the world should adopt European harm reduction policies. Most Latin American countries are supporting the approach of dealing with this as a health problem, not a criminal one."

Fernandes looked with guarded optimism at the new Obama administration. "We hope the Obama administration will at least be able to open that possibility because now the US totally opposes harm reduction as good policy," he said. "The world is not moving to follow the US jail policy. The US needs to think about whether putting people in jail is really solving the problem."

"Discussions in Vienna are not enough," said Cardoso. "We need national debates in all our countries, as well as inside the US. A clear dialog with the US is very important. We will try to get in contact with the Obama administration."

And so the pressure builds, on both the UN and the US. Will it be enough to force dramatic changes in Vienna or Washington? Probably not yet. But the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling, clearly if slowly.

ONDCP: Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske Named New Drug Czar

President Obama has named Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the drug czar's office, a White House official confirmed Thursday. It is not clear when the official announcement will be made.
Gil Kerlikowske
It is also not clear whether ONDCP will retain its position as a cabinet-level entity, which it has been under recent administrations. That, too, will be cleared up when the official announcement is made, the official said. The drug czar possibly being demoted could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on his proclivities.

How Kerlikowske will behave as drug czar is unclear. His has not been a loud voice on drug policy, but he has been police chief in a city, Seattle, that has embraced lowest-priority policing for adult marijuana offenses and needle exchange programs, and he has gone with the flow in regards to those issues. For a keen local look at Kerlikowske, Seattle activist turned journalist Dominic Holden's musings on Kerlikowske are well worth checking out.

Prior to being named Seattle police chief in 2000, Kerlikowske served as deputy director in the Justice Department, where he oversaw the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program. He also spent four years as Buffalo's police commissioner. The military veteran has a total of 36 years in law enforcement, where he has earned a reputation as a progressive.

While Kerlikowske has a national profile in law enforcement circles, it is not because of drug policy. His interests have been around gun policy, immigration, and electronic data mining of private records, which he has criticized as highly intrusive and not very useful.

Drug reformers had advocated for someone with a public health -- not a law enforcement -- background to head ONDCP. But a progressive law enforcement official who has a record of tolerating drug reform and harm reduction efforts may make for a decent drug czar from the reform perspective.

"While we're disappointed that President Obama seems poised to nominate a police chief instead of a major public health advocate as drug czar, we're cautiously optimistic that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will support Obama's drug policy reform agenda," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "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," he said.

Editorial: Obama's Other War

guest editorial by Matthew Robinson

As commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama must now oversee our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As President, he is also responsible for another war, one that has gone on much longer and been more costly in terms of dollars spent and lives lost.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is an executive agency in the White House. According to its web site, ONDCP is charged with establishing the policies, priorities, and objectives for all US drug control policy. And Obama is now in charge of ONDCP.

ONDCP's goals include reducing illicit drug use, manufacturing and trafficking of drugs, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences. Research has shown that ONDCP has failed to consistently meet these goals since it was created in November 1988.
propaganda for too long -- ONDCP's National Drug Control Strategy report
Illicit drug use is not down during ONDCP's tenure, drugs are still widely available, and illicit drugs are actually more dangerous now than even during the peak of drug use in 1979. Crime and violence have significantly declined but criminological research shows this is mostly attributable to non-criminal justice factors such as an improved economy and an aging population.

In spite of this, each year when it releases its National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP continues to "sell" the drug war by saying it is effective, compassionate and balanced, even though it is none of these things. My research has shown that ONDCP has consistently misled Congress and taxpayers about the fact that the drug war has largely failed.

For example, ONDCP focuses almost exclusively on short-term declines in reported use by young people, ignoring increases in some drugs by youth as well as long-term trends and drug use by adults. Further, it claims our nation's drug control policy is balanced even though the budget is clearly tilted in favor of reactive and supply side tactics such as domestic law enforcement and military spending rather than proactive and demand side methods such as prevention and treatment.

Critics of the drug war have pointed out, correctly, that the most effective as well as cost-effective measures are carefully designed and honest prevention messages and well-staffed drug abuse treatment programs. Yet, 65 percent of the FY 2009 drug control budget is intended for the less effective measures of domestic law enforcement, interdiction and international spending, versus only 35 percent for prevention and treatment. And these figures actually underestimate the amount going to reactive drug control strategies for they do not count the tens of billions of dollars spent each year arresting, processing, and punishing drug offenders.

On the night Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for President, he said he would "go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy." ONDCP is a failing agency, one that needs to be completely revamped.

In the 2009 National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP reports that the Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) scores have been released for more than 20 drug control programs. PART rates a program's purpose, planning, management, and results to determine its effectiveness on a scale from 0 to 100. What ONDCP fails to report are its scores. The scores for results are: 42 (Drug-Free Communities Support Program); 33 (High Intensity Drug trafficking Areas); 11 (Counterdrug Technology transfer Program); 7 (Counterdrug Research & Development); and 6 (Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign). Yes, that is out of 100.

According to ONDCP's stated budget, we spend more than $14 billion each year on national drug control policy; in fact, the true cost is much higher. But one thing is clear -- much of this spending is wasted on ineffective programs. Further, more than $420 million is spent on ONDCP itself, a nontransparent, dishonest executive agency.

Obama claims his administration will be transparent and honest, and that the policies he will pursue will be evidence-based. So here is an exciting possibility for Obama to live up to his word. To do this, he must welcome drug abuse experts to the White House, listen to them, and read their work.

The vast majority of drug abuse experts will tell Obama that the drug war has been a massive failure. We've wasted hundreds of billions of dollars under ONDCP's direction pursuing policies and programs that not only fail to meaningfully reduce the availability and use of illicit drugs but also cost us thousands of lives every year. Continuing to spend money on these policies and programs is like pouring money down a hole. Given the state of the economy, we simply cannot justify staying on this path.

The good news is that even conservatives in Congress should welcome a new path. After all, they probably hate big government more than Obama. And the drug war is big government, running amok and out of control.

Even better news is that more effective alternatives are available, including policies aimed at preventing experimentation with drug use among young people, reducing harms associated with illicit drug use among adults, and reducing drug abuse through public health approaches such as treatment.

The time for change is now. Based on Obama's choice for Director of ONDCP -- Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske -- there is hope for a change in direction. Though Kerlikowske has been in law enforcement for 36 years -- a medical or public health professional might make a better pick -- he is an advocate for community-oriented policing and investing in crime prevention. Kerlikowske opposed a ballot measure in Seattle to make marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority, but he also said it was already a low priority, and marijuana possession arrests by his department have dropped substantially since the measure's enactment. Medical marijuana is legal in Seattle, and the city runs needle exchanges and other programs based on the philosophy of harm reduction. Kerlikowske has not been an outspoken advocate for those programs, but neither has he stood in their way.

For there to be real change in the drug war, Kerlikowske must immediately learn that he has inherited an agency that has consistently failed to achieve its goals and to tell the truth to the American people. If Obama believes in a transparent, honest, evidence-based drug control policy, it will be up to Kerlikowske, once confirmed, to make that a reality.

Matthew Robinson is Professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University. He is the author of nine books including Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics (SUNY Press, 2009).

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