07/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Legalize Marijuana? Perish the Thought, Says Drug Czar -- Banish the Herb...and the Verb!

"The discussion about legalization is not a part of the president's vocabulary under any circumstances and it's not a part of mine."
-- ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske, from interview withReuters

First, let's get that title business out of the way. I'd suggested in an earlier post that Kerlikowske might want to deep-six the "Drug Czar" label. But mere days into his tenure he made self-referential (and borderline reverential) use of the moniker. Therefore, out of respect for my colleague I'll employ the title for as long as he clings to it.

Now to a "discussion about legalization," a conversation boldly embraced by vast and growing numbers of experts and everyday Americans, whose wisdom (and courage) on the issue far exceeds that of their leaders. A quick vocabulary quiz for Czar Gil:

1. Which of the following most accurately describes U.S. drug policy over the past four decades:
a. Noble
b. Cost effective
c. Vital to national security
d. Ruinous

2. Which of the following best captures the most likely effect of ending drug prohibition:
a. Joyous drug traffickers
b. Galloping crime rates
c. Safer communities, restoration of our civil liberties
d. Burgeoning prison populations

3. What do we call the conduct of a public official who promises science-based policies but refuses to talk about legalizing a drug shown empirically to be safer than alcohol?
a. Pragmatic
b. Hypocritical
c. Realistic
d. Gutsy

4. Cynically ending the rhetoric of the drug war while continuing to target and attack adult Americans who smoke marijuana:
a. Undermines the public's confidence in their government
b. Wastes huge sums of taxpayer money
c. Damages the lives of yet more Americans
d. All of the above

5. Which of the following institutions and/or individuals were reported to be crestfallen upon learning that marijuana legalization is not part of Czar Gil's vocabulary?
a. Liquor distillers
b. Brewers
c. Vintners
d. Big Pharma
e. The prison industrial complex
f. The International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association
g. Mexican drug cartels
h. Afghan drug lords
i. The Taliban
j. Bill Bennett
k. Rush Limbaugh
l. Street traffickers
m. None of the above

Answers: (1) d; (2) c; (3) b; (4) d; (5) m
Source: The author

In the late eighties or early nineties I attended a major drug policy conference in Washington, D.C. Participants were urged to "leave no stone unturned" in the search for answers to the nation's "growing drug problem." Chief Daryl Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department kicked off the meeting, informing us that one stone, after all, was to be left undisturbed. "If someone even raises the subject of marijuana legalization, shut him down. That topic is not now, nor will it ever be on the agenda."

Was that the future Czar Gil sitting in the first row, feverishly taking notes?

One of the great promises of the Obama presidential campaign was a commitment to intellectual integrity, rigorous scientific inquiry, and open dialogue with and on behalf of the American people.

So, when President Obama allows to go uncontested a statement on his behalf that a common sense drug strategy is not to be discussed "under any circumstances," he puts himself in league with the colorful former LAPD police chief, a cop who once argued that even casual drug users should be "taken out and shot."

We can do better. I suggest we use the administration's embargo on truth (watch the Czar's inspired answer on the same topic from Tom Angell, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's crackerjack media relations director) as a rallying point for strengthening our devotion to a national vocabulary that always makes room for science and sanity.