NORML, like most drug law reform organizations, waited with bated breath to learn who President Obama would nominate as the nation’s next Drug Czar. We now know that Obama has named former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske for this position, and that he has accepted the President’s nomination.
Today, we join with many of our colleagues in expressing a cautious optimism that Mr. Kerlikowske will bring science and compassion to an office that, for far too long, has lacked either.
Why are we optimistic? As I explain in today’s edition of The Hill‘s influential Congress blog:
Does Obama’s Pick Signal ‘Change’ At The Drug Czar’s Office?
via The Hill.com
On the positive side, Kerlikowske hails from Seattle — a city that has elected to make the enforcement of marijuana crimes cops’ ‘lowest priority.’ And although the police chief spoke out against the initiative effort — which passed with 58 percent of the vote in 2003 — he’s abided by the will of the people since then. Consequently, there are now fewer marijuana-related arrests in Seattle than in virtually any other major city in the United States.
At first glance, Kerlikowoske also appears to take a tolerant approach toward the medical use of marijuana. Since 1999, Washington state law has allowed for the possession, cultivation, and doctor supervised use of marijuana under state law. (Twelve additional U.S. States have similar laws.) Whereas Kerlikowske’s White House predecessor (John Walters) refused to even acknowledge that cannabis possessed even the slightest hint of therapeutic value, Seattle’s exiting police chief accepted the law and has made few, if any, efforts to undermine it.
It’s also worth mentioning that Seattle is home to the annual Seattle Hempfest, a several hundred thousand person gathering in Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park. Organizers of the event have consistently praised the attitudes of the city’s police force for treating the event’s attendees with the utmost respect and tolerance.
There are other reasons to believe that the nomination of Kerlikowske represents something more than just be politics as usual. NORML Board Members Dominic Holden, a Seattle native, and Norm Stamper — who served as Seattle Police Chief prior to Kerlikowske’s appointment in 2000 — touch on many of these reasons here and here.
Of course, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As I wrote in The Hill, “Kerlikowske is first and foremost a cop. He’s served 36 years in law enforcement, and it would be foolish to assume that he will embrace the public’s desire to amend America’s antiquated and overly punitive pot policies with open arms.” Kerlikowske must also be approved by the members of the U.S. Senate, many of whom remain woefully unenlightened of the public’s demand for rational drug policies.
So here’s your chance to tell them. As I’ve written before, The Hill is widely read by lawmakers and by the mainstream media. That’s why NORML is asking you to take time today to comment on my latest editorial. Tell Congress that it is high time America confirms a Drug Czar who will demand reason before rhetoric, and who will put the interests of people before prisons.
President Barack Obama promised “change” inside the Beltway, and nowhere is change more sorely needed than in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. What changes would you like to see? Write The Hill and join the discussion.
By Dominic Holden, NORML Board Member
Originally published by the Seattle Stranger’s Slog.
Last week White House appointee John Walters claimed on C-SPAN that finding people in jail for “first-time nonviolent possession of marijuana… is like finding a unicorn … because it doesn’t exist.” I had a hunch that some of the 775,138 people arrested for pot possession last year were actually unicorns…
But the drug czar probably assumed that it’s a freebie to call people with criminal convictions anything he wants, because they’re likely to be too ashamed to defend themselves. That’s certainly true, but it didn’t take me long to find credible people willing to vouch for the existence of first-time, non-violent marijuana offenders—excuse me, unicorns.
In just one hour, I’ve found five people who have seen the Drug Czar’s unicorns with their own eyes. Here are Slog’s exclusive unicorn reports: (more…)
By Dominic Holden, Member, NORML Board of Directors
Obama selecting Biden is a punch to the gut. Like that sickening feeling you got as a high school freshman, walking up the steps to the big party—and you’re telling yourself, if I fuck this up, my dreams are shot. But if things go well, this could be an excellent four years.
I am anything but a single-issue voter, but I’m also a die-hard zealot against the drug war. Everything that could have gone wrong has been an unbridled catastrophe: Drug epidemics and cartel routes breeze across the continent, privacy laws are gutted for sport, kids try drugs younger and younger, our prisons are stuffed with young black men…
And it’s Joe Biden’s fault.As former chairman for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden is the person most responsible for passing a package of laws in the mid-80s that we think of as today’s drug war. Biden presided over the mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines that required judges to sentence dealers’ girlfriends and small-time peddlers to decades-long terms in state and federal prisons, where thousands are rotting to this day.
He used hearings “to mislead his colleagues and the public… on drug policy where police, prosecutors and DEA officials got the opportunity [to speak] while opponents were kept out,” says Kevin Zeese, a former director of Common Sense for Drug Policy and a leading drug-law reformer in Washington, D.C. since the 1980s. “Pick a drug law you don’t like from the last 25 years and thank Senator Biden.”
But, since this is Obama’s campaign, I’m trying to hope—hope that Biden can change.
Read the rest of this blog originally posted to the Seattle Stranger’s Slog.