There are a lot of “what-ifs” in this New York Times story about Obama’s candidate for U.S. drug czar. Nevertheless, any shift away from guns and cages is a hopeful sign that Americans and more particularly American government is waking up to the fact that the drug war is not being won. People are going to do what people are going to do. Guns, fear, authoritarianism and cages can only have so much of an impact on human nature. Unfortunately that impact usually adds to the problem rather than mitigating it.
The anticipated selection of Chief Kerlikowske has given hope to those who want national drug policy to shift from an emphasis on arrest and prosecution to methods more like those employed in Seattle: intervention, treatment and a reduction of problems drug use can cause, a tactic known as harm reduction.Chief Kerlikowske is not necessarily regarded as having forcefully led those efforts, but he has not gotten in the way of them. “What gives me optimism,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, “is not so much him per se as the fact that he’s been the police chief of Seattle. And Seattle, King County and Washington State have really been at the forefront of harm reduction and other drug policy reform.”
The White House has yet to announce the nomination of Chief Kerlikowske, and a spokesman for the Seattle police said the chief would not discuss the matter. His appointment would require Senate confirmation.
Here’s hoping the nomination is made and that the Senate can collectively pull its head out of its butt long enough to confirm the guy. While I disagree on principle with the post of “drug czar” to begin with I’m not idealistic enough to expect the position to be eliminated overnight. That would take a violent revolution.
Of course, the potential nominee has detractors:
Norm Stamper, whom Chief Kerlikowske succeeded in Seattle, said he was a “blank slate” on drug policy. Mr. Stamper, who left office not long after the riots that broke out during a 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, supports legalizing marijuana and spoke at Hempfest after leaving the chief’s job. He said Chief Kerlikowske had not been a vocal supporter of some of the city’s drug policies focused on treatment, like a needle exchange program or a 2003 city ballot initiative, overwhelmingly approved by voters, that said enforcing the law against marijuana possession by adults should be the department’s lowest priority. “The question is, if he were in a much more conservative community, would he attempt to turn that around?” Mr. Stamper said. Others said that Mr. Kerlikowske’s role as a police chief put him in a delicate political position because he would not want to be accused of being soft on crime. They note that he did not actively oppose the 2003 initiative and that he instructed his staff to comply with it once it passed. They say that Seattle police officers in recent years have kept their distance from the sites of needle exchanges. Drug arrests are down in the city and overall crime is at a 40-year low, though concerns have increased recently over gang violence. Chief Kerlikowske has faced plenty of criticism during his time in Seattle. In 2001, a study found that more than half of adults arrested for drug crimes in the city were black, though less than 10 percent of the population was black. The chief vowed to address the disparity, and it has decreased. In 2002, he received a vote of no confidence from the local police union. The year before, officers had been frustrated by his handling of a Mardi Gras riot in which one person died and dozens were injured. Some officers said they were prevented from intervening soon enough. In 2007, a special commission found that the department had been too lenient in disciplining officers in certain situations.
In 2004, the chief’s personal weapon, a 9mm Glock pistol, was stolen from his unmarked police car while he and his wife shopped downtown on the day after Christmas. A police spokesman said later that the chief had accidentally left his car unlocked but that he had not violated department policy by leaving his gun in his car.
Anyone with as much responsibility as the police chief of a major city is going to make enemies. We’re humans and we love to snipe at one another. I think the potential nomination of a person who may see treatment and leniency, particularly when it comes to marijauna use, is much better than the potential nomination of a drug czar who talks a lot of jazz about stiffer sentences, more prisons and more drug “warriors” – the growth of the police state has been primarily fueled by the “drug war.” Many civil liberties have been lost or eroded. America is less free and a less palatable place to live because of the so called war on drugs. It’s about time we used a little common sense and treated non-violent drug offenders as if they were a minor nuisance rather than a national security threat.