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May-14-2009 04:58TweetFollow @OregonNews
New Drug Czar Calls for End of 'War on Drugs'Tim King Salem-News.com
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.
(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.
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.
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