THE BLOG

Drug Czar of My Dreams

01/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For over 35 years America's war at home, the Drug War, has been raging. Owing in large part to drug war excesses, the United States now locks up more of its citizens than any nation on earth -- more than 2.3 million, with half a million of them behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses alone. That is more than Western Europe, with a much higher population, incarcerates for all crimes combined.

The historic election of Barack Obama signals a unique opportunity to begin to heal one of America's worst open sores and end the drug war, but that is not going to happen unless President-elect Obama nominates someone exceptional to the position of drug czar, or director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The appointment of "moderate" will not be sufficient, particularly when President-elect Obama's stated goals are to repeal the harshest drug sentences, remove federal bans on syringe-exchange funding to reduce HIV/AIDS, allow medical cannabis research, and support treatment alternatives for low-level drug offenders.

The Christian Science Monitor recently opined, "In his selection of a 'drug czar,' President-elect Obama needs to place more emphasis on addiction as a health problem," Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2008. Columnist Maia Szalavitz, who covers addiction and treatment issues, perhaps put it best, "We need someone who knows the science, recognizes that there are many paths to recovery -- and understands that dead addicts can't recover," "Obama Drug Czar Pick: No Recovery from War on Drugs?", Huffington Post, November 21, 2008.

A significant reallocation of scarce resources from criminal justice to public health solutions is long overdue, but drug policy is multi-disciplinary and international in scope. We have had cops, doctors and soldiers. Call me crazy, but I think our drug czar should be an experienced drug policy expert who comprehends the full breadth, depth and importance of this issue on day one.

I have seen Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, and Judge Jim P. Gray suggested in comments appended to articles and blog posts on the topic, but I think Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, personifies the consummate drug policy expert, in both domestic and international affairs, that I would like to see directing the drug czar's office.

To this end, I started a petition called, "Drug Czar of My Dreams."

Perhaps Nadelmann for drug czar is too much to hope for but, with any luck, this petition will at least encourage President-elect Obama to think twice about his choice of drug czar. In addition to your signature and feedback, I would appreciate your help with promoting this petition.

Matthew M. Elrod