New Drug Czar Disavows Drug ’War’

The Obama administration’s new ’drug czar’ says he is open to a fundamental rethinking of the nation’s approach to preventing illicit-drug use and wants to cast aside the language of war in describing the effort, the Wall Street Journal reported May 14.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ’war on drugs’ or a ’war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” said Gil Kerlikowske, recently confirmed as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

Kerlikowske said that the Obama administration wants to focus on drug use as a public-health problem, with an increased emphasis on providing addiction treatment as an alternative to incarceration.

“While I don’t necessarily disagree with Gil’s focus on treatment and demand reduction, I don’t want to see it at the expense of law enforcement,” said James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “People need to understand that when they violate the law there are consequences.”

The former Seattle police chief has heard from critics who question his commitment to enforcement of drug laws. Sgt. Richard O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, said that a deemphasis of marijuana enforcement resulted in a open-air drug market being established in downtown Seattle. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the sole member of the Senate to vote against Kerlikowske’s nomination, said he was concerned that the new drug czar had a permissive attitude towards marijuana.

Kerlikowske said he doesn’t support legalization but is in favor of needle-exchange programs, which he said were “part of a complete public-health model for dealing with addiction.”

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