Drug Czar Calls for End to

Press Release May 13, 2009
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann at (646) 335-2240

White House drug czar, Gill Kerlikowske called for an “end to the war on drugs” and said the drug problem in this country should be a public heath issue and not a criminal justice issue. His comments came during an interview with Gary Fields of the Wall Street Journal and appear in today’s paper.

“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 and we are not at war with people in this country,” Kerlikowske told the Journal. He also told the Journal that the Obama Administration is likely to deal with drugs as a public health issue and would favor treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

“We are cautiously optimistic” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Kerlikowske appears to be in line with President Obama’s call for a paradigm shift to public health and he along with the Justice Department support the range of drug policy reforms Obama pledged as a candidate.”

As a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama said the ‘war on drugs is an utter failure’ and that he believes in ‘shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public health approach.’ He also called for eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, and stopping the U.S. Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws.

Kerlikowske confirmed he supports needle exchange programs as a “part of a complete public-health model for dealing with addiction” and that he plans to work with Congress and other agencies to alter current policies. Recently the Justice Department came out against the crack/ powder disparity and the attorney general said that the administration will no longer raid marijuana dispensaries that comply with state laws.

Advocates pledge to hold Kerlikowske and the administration to their words and make sure their actions meet their rhetoric.

“There were a couple of marijuana dispensaries raided since the Justice Department pledged to end the raids. The recent budget that was introduced still included a federal ban on funding clean syringes despite calling for an end to the ban” Nadelmann noted. “The proof will be in the pudding. We need to make sure the deeds match the words.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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