Kerlikowske Promises Change in Drug Policy

Czar says he'll provide audience for all viewpoints

Gil Kerlikowske promises a new (and more rational?) day will dawn at ONDCP
Gil Kerlikowske promises a new (and more rational?) day will dawn at ONDCP

Gil Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief who is President Barack Obama's pick to be the nation's next drug czar, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that under his leadership, the nation's drug-control strategy will feature debate that is "inclusive of disparate ideas," he said during his confirmation hearing April 1. "Dialog will be continuous," he said, and "[d]eliberation will be comprehensive and collaborative."

Moreover, Kerlikowske, who has embraced harm reduction strategies in Seattle -- including needle exchange -- promises to restore the influence of science and restraint to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which was under the control of the dreaded John Walters during the Bush Administration. Under Walters, the office spent a staggering amount of time waging a war on pot, pumping up and out propaganda, to the detriment of other programs. Indeed, inherent in Kerlikowske's comments to the Congressional committee earlier this month was the notion that things have to get better at the ONDCP.

Kerlikowske said he would focus on putting together a balanced and "comprehensive" drug policy "based upon the best possible understanding of the drug threat, and incorporates a science-based approach to public policy" -- science! It's back! He also said he would keep his office's budget in control and would "rigorously" assess the office's approach in order to adapt "to changing circumstances."

And, finally, in the ultimate change-of-direction, Kerlikowske said that one of his goals is to develop a "strong, transparent monitoring system" to determine whether the nation's drug control strategy is actually working. "[I]f you can't measure it, you can't improve it," he said. John Carnevale, a former budget analyst for the ONDCP who had been critical of the office under Walters, told Join Together that this approach is "right on target." Kerlikowske's "interest in performance accountability is precisely in tune with what the public expects -- a results oriented national drug-control policy."

Most of all, the promise to listen to diverging points of view is encouraging to drug-law reformers. "If we ask Kerlikowske about legalization, the answer is going to be no," Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance told JT. "But at least our input will be heard. The center of the debate is moving in our direction."

At least that's what we hope.

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Drug War, Gil Kerlikowske, ONDCP, Barack Obama

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