Obama Likely to Pick Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to be Drug Czar, According to News Reports

Press Release February 10, 2009
Media Contact

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

According to today’s Seattle Times and ABC News, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske has accepted a high-ranking position in the Obama Administration; most likely Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly known as the Drug Czar.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading advocate of alternatives to the war on drugs, said:

“While we’re disappointed that President Obama seems poised to nominate a police chief instead of a major public health advocate as drug czar, we’re cautiously optimistic that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will support Obama’s drug policy reform agenda.

What gives us hope is the fact that Seattle has been at the cutting edge of harm reduction and other drug policy reform developments in the United States over the last decade. The city’s needle exchange programs are well established and harm reduction is well integrated in Seattle’s approach to local drug problems. Marijuana has been legal for medical purposes for a decade. In 2003, Seattle voters passed a ballot initiative making marijuana arrests the lowest law enforcement priority. And the King County Bar Association has demonstrated national leadership in exploring alternatives to current prohibitionist policies.

While Gil Kerlikowske has not spoken out in favor of any of these reforms, he is clearly familiar with them and has not been a forceful opponent. Given the high regard in which he is held by other police chiefs around the country, Mr. Kerlikowske has the potential to provide much needed national leadership in implementing the commitments that Barack Obama made during the campaign.

As a presidential candidate, Senator Obama said the ‘war on drugs is an utter failure’ and that he believes in ‘shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that 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.

The Drug Policy Alliance will do everything in its powers to ensure that the nominee for drug czar is thoroughly grilled at the confirmation hearings, and held accountable to the commitments and standards that President Obama has declared.”

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

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