On August 1 President Obama announced that, after four years, Gil Kerlikowske was out as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) – also known as US drug czar. Kerlikowske will likely move to the Department of Homeland Security as Obama nominated him to become the US Customs and Border Protection commissioner.
Kerlikowske's tenure as drug czar was a mixed bag; he made outdated statements about marijuana legalization, which he did not support, and he harped on health risks associated with pot. However he also emphasized a shift towards treatment rather than punishment – that shift was made policy this week as AG Holder called for an increase in drug treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration. Over all Kerlikowske took a less aggressive approach on pot than his predecessor John Walters.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, whose office stopped prosecuting minor pot cases in 2010, defended Kerlikowske by pointing out to the Post-Intelligencer that, in his position as federal drug czar, Kerlikowske “is legally precluded from having an enlightened conversation about drug policy.”
Marijuana activist Dominic Holden praised Kerlikowske’s restraint, saying he “did not speak out against [the Washington and Colorado legalization measures], he did not go on tours, he did not publish op-eds.” Had he chosen to do so, he would have had plenty of support as a consortium of ex-DEA chiefs publicly denounced the two voter-approved legalization initiatives.
Some wonder if President Obama should bother appointing a successor to Kerlikowske. Has the position of US drug czar become irrelevant as a majority of Americans favor marijuana legalization and treatment programs for hard drug-abusers rather than dead-end incarceration?
Then, of course, there’s the question of money. Can tax dollars be better spent? Certainly. According to Holmes, “One of the most helpful things the president can do right now is to not spend money on filling that position.”
Many view drug czar as an impotent position established to admonish Americans for drug use. But it’s costing us a fortune. For 2014, the ONDCP requested $311 million from Congress, $23 million of which would pay for 97 full-time staffers.
To some, this is a ridiculous waste of resources. Still, others believe it would be a mistake to eliminate the office. Putting aside marijuana, some view the office as necessary for warning of the dangers of hard drugs like methamphetamine and heroin.
No word yet on who Obama might choose as the new drug czar. Speculation abounds as to whether his selection will reflect a new approach on cannabis and drug enforcement or a reactionary move in an attempt to quell the momentum of medical and recreational marijuana legalization.
We want to know what you think. How would you rate Kerlikowske as US drug czar? Should the office be eliminated? If not, who should replace Kerlikowske as the next drug czar? Let us know in the comments section below.