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Obama's New Drug Czar Couldn't Be Any Worse Than Bush's. Will He Be Any Better?

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I'd have preferred someone from the public health/medical field, but, if nominated, as expected, and confirmed by the Senate, current Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will no doubt do a better job as the nation's "drug czar" than his predecessor.

John Walters, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was a fanatic enemy of science and reason. His "reefer madness" misstatements on marijuana, his ill-conceived, mulish advocacy of drug testing in public schools, his refusal to listen to critics of the drug war (much less debate them) are all, gloriously, a thing of the past.

But what of Gil (or "Kerli," as his affectionate detractors call him)? Will the 36-year law enforcement veteran put the country on a path to more sensible drug policy?

I don't know.

Kerlikowske is president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a body whose members were helpful to me during my six years as Seattle's chief. He also chairs Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an inspired program meant to prevent children from becoming criminals. He's intelligent, putatively progressive, and more inclined toward research and evidence than your average police administrator.

But will he be open to candid conversation about what the drug war has wrought, and what tomorrow's drug policy ought to look like? What's his current take on the drug war? I'm with Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance who pointed out in a February 11 press release that, "While Gil Kerlikowske has not spoken out in favor of [needle exchanges, medical marijuana, the city's marijuana-as-lowest-enforcement-priority law, and the King County Bar Association's exploration of alternatives to prohibition], he is clearly familiar with them and has not been a forceful opponent."

I'm optimistic but the jury is out, and won't return until Senate confirmation hearings. At which time those who hunger for justice and common sense might want to think about joining the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and others to "ensure that the nominee for drug czar is thoroughly grilled at the confirmation hearings, and held accountable to the commitments and standards that President Obama has declared."

One thing I know for sure about Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske? If Michael Phelps had bent over that bong in Seattle and not in Sheriff Leon Lott's Richland County, SC, he'd have nothing to fear but a foolish and fickle cereal maker.