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May-14-2009 04:58printcomments

New Drug Czar Calls for End of 'War on Drugs'

The drug czar doesn't have the power to enforce any of these changes himself, but Mr. Kerlikowske plans to work with Congress and other agencies to alter current policies.

DEA agents on a marijuana bust
DEA agents on a marijuana bust.
Photo: farm4.static.flickr.com

(SALEM, Ore.) - "We're not at war with people in this country."

The nation's new Drug Czar says he wants to end the "War on Drugs" and prefers the adoption of policies that favor treating drug users rather than incarcerating them.

The news was delivered during a Wall Street Journal interview where former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske spoke openly about the failure of a national approach to drug abuse. Currently, one out of 31 Americans are either incarcerated or part of the parole and probation system. Many if not most of those serving time were convicted of non-violent drug crimes.

In a recent Salem-News.com open letter to the new Drug Czar, his predecessor as Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper, concluded his letter to Kerlikowske by saying:

You have been given what DPA calls a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to help us reclaim our freedom as Americans, and to live safer, healthier lives.

Please don't blow it, Gil.

Warm regards,


Kerlikowske told Gary Fields with The Wall Street Journal, "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".

It certainly didn't take long for Kerlikowske to go public with his plan. He was confirmed as Drug Czar on May 7th 2009. The Wall Street interview was his first public appearance since assuming the new role.

Gil Kerlikowske's ideas won't take form overnight, but they are a clear signal that the nation is headed for different times.

In spite of Obama's statements that the Justice Department would no longer be used to raid medical marijuana dispensaries, the seemingly rogue Drug Enforcement Agency has continued to raid medical marijuana dispensaries, even though both President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, said they would not.

Kerlikowske says the Obama administration will most likely treat drugs as a matter of public health, stepping away from the years of relying almost completely on the criminal justice system to treat the problem, incarcerating hundreds of thousands of Americans in the process.

Drug war opponents say prison and jail sentences remove drug users from the working population while turning them into a taxpayer burden. The groups largely agree that treatment will heal society much more effectively.

The new Drug Czar has shown an alternating pattern of support and criticism for the drug war. His new tact reflects what Stamper and other high-level politicians and activists asked him to do.

The drug czar doesn't have the power to enforce any of these changes himself, but Mr. Kerlikowske plans to work with Congress and other agencies to alter current policies. He said he hasn't yet focused on U.S. policy toward fighting drug-related crime in other countries.


Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), the first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several other awards including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

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Space Willie 200 June 3, 2009 10:42 am (Pacific time)

The "War on Drugs" isn't doing anything but making people afraid to go out at night and giving officers who like to be dicks (And you know who you are) an excuse to easily fill their quota of traffic tickets. We need to solve the problem, not the symptoms. I'd go into that a bit deeper but if I need to do that for you to understand, you're a part of the problem, not the solution.

Adolph May 21, 2009 12:37 am (Pacific time)

instead of putting them in jail, they're going to do what they do to alcoholics, make them go to rehab, make them pay for it, and continue the war on drugs, or maybe now they'll call it war on health terrorists"......they will never legalize drugs, because the drug black market brings in more dough than if it were legal. because if it were legal, Latin America would be getting a huge slice of the legalized pie. and thats why they wont legalize it. they're just putting sugar on top of shit and calling it pancakes. WASTE OF MY TIME.

Johnson May 17, 2009 7:20 am (Pacific time)

We have very strong laws that forbid underage children from using alcohol and tobacco. Have these laws worked? I just cannot see a majority in any legislature (national or state) legalizing marijuana. It is the leaders of all houses and senates who allow bills to be voted on. So what's going on with these leaders? They control the action, but they know it would be political suicide for an up and down vote, regardless of what the polls purport. What other countries do is irrelevant, we are not a country that follows, we lead.

jake whitten May 16, 2009 2:02 am (Pacific time)

i would say wow we finally figured out what they figured out in prohibition, drugs laws dont stop drugs, they took what 7 years and we took 34? I say we are not getting smarter we are getting more ignorant and less tolerant as a nation. moralists want to not only tell you whats right and wrong they want the govt to imprison you if you don't share your ideas, the exact things the founding fathers tried to prevent. medicines need proper dispensing and information. marijauna is about the most nontoxic substance known to man especially if inhaled by vaporizer or eaten. hemp is also a fantastic fiber that could save millions of trees etc, if you dont belive me try slicing into a marijauna stalk. those things are tuff even when small. well maybe obama and the good grief titled "drug czar" mean what they say, its probably more a matter of the country in to broke to keep jailing people. here is to hundreds of thousand of lives destroyed more by the jail time then pot. will any apology be forthcoming?

kristen peifer May 15, 2009 10:07 am (Pacific time)

just legalize/decriminalize marijuana. we dont need hard drugs, just let us smoke our plants. seriously, it's a plant.

Henry Ruark May 14, 2009 11:44 am (Pacific time)

Red: Semantics cannot conceal the absolute necessity of stronger control for some drugs, still absolutely necessary. What can now happen, with the changing attitude-at-top displayed here, is sensible, sensitive--democratic !--full control of those known to be malign, while freeing us from the debilitating, damaging bad faith actions to which you refer. Again, given the longtime resistance built up by heavy dollars/power/organization status of bureaucracy at several levels, patience is demanded of us out here in the real world. Hang tight,keep up the full pressures already at work, and we will see what should emerge as solidified, refocused and stronger control where it is really needed, with return to individual freedoms where that is proven to be possible without damage to our society.

TYC May 14, 2009 7:45 am (Pacific time)

An idea whose time has come!

RED May 14, 2009 10:24 am (Pacific time)

The socalled 'war on drugs' has always been a war on civil rights.This is another example of the art of semantics. We now call an escalation a 'surge'. What will the 'czar' now call himself, drug stooge?

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