Drug Czar Ditches Drug Conference in El Paso

Apparently rethinking drug policy ain't on the czar's "to do" list this week

Kerlikowske had better things to do than talk about drug policy in El Paso
Kerlikowske had better things to do than talk about drug policy in El Paso

After confirming their attendance earlier this year, federal drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and federal border czar Alan Bersin both ditched the University of Texas at El Paso-hosted Global Public Policy Forum on the U.S. War on Drugs this week, reports El Paso's Newspaper Tree.

Organizers were surprised by the 11th-hour bow-out – but apparently one participant, El Paso Co. Sheriff Richard Wiles, was not. "I don't know why you're all so surprised about the federal government's unwillingness to address this because, quite frankly, they've ignored the problem for years, and that's why we're in the situation we're in now," Wiles told the online paper. (Incidentally, in 2007, Wiles was one of three finalists for the Austin Police Department's top-cop job that was ultimately offered to Art Acevedo). "As a matter of fact, the only reason that we've got national attention is because it's on the backs of the dead people in Juárez."

Indeed. So far this year there have been an estimated 1650 murders in Juárez – including 18 gunned down earlier this month at a rehab clinic. To put it mildly, the drug war isn't helping curb any violence on the south side of the border – if it were working you would expect to see violence decrease instead of increase, given that Americans are by far the largest group of drug consumers in the world.

The snub by Kerlikowske, who is responsible for crafting the nation's drug policy, is, at best, disappointing. Though, as Wiles notes, not at all surprising. So far attempts by El Paso officials to kickstart a conversation about the future of the War on Drugs haven't been too successful – indeed, in January, city council member Beto O'Rourke got slapped by the state's Lege delegation (minus, notably, Sen. Eliot Shapleigh) as well as U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes for having the balls to suggest that the nation should be rethinking its approach to handling drug use. The horror!

Given that the nation's drug use rate has been incredibly stable since 2002 – despite the government's spending millions and millions to tell everybody not to do drugs, and then on locking folks up when they just don't listen – it would seem that, as a state if not as a nation, it might be time to lend an ear to the "crazy" notions of our friends in El Paso.

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