Thursday: Senate Judiciary to Vote on Obama

Press Release April 21, 2009
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Thursday on President Obama’s drug czar nominee, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

What: Senate Judiciary Committee’s Vote on President Obama’s Drug Czar Nominee
When: Thursday, April 23rd; 10:00AM EST
Where: Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226

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

“I must admit to feeling hopeful about the prospect of Gil Kerlikowske as drug czar. It would have been nice, of course, if President Obama had seized the opportunity and nominated a powerful public health advocate for the position. But who better than a respected police chief to promote the new administration’s commitment to moving drug control policy from a criminal justice to a public health focus?

“What gives me hope is the fact that Kerlikowske has been chief of police in Seattle, which has been at the cutting edge of harm reduction and other drug policy reform for over a decade. It was among the first cities to implement needle exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, and Seattle voters were the first to pass a ballot initiative directing the police to make marijuana arrests their lowest priority. Washington State was among the first states to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. And the King County Bar Association has demonstrated national leadership in exploring alternatives to current prohibitionist policies.

“While Kerlikowske has not advocated for any of these reforms, he nonetheless appears to have followed through in good faith. 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, 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 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. Within 24 hours of taking office, the White House website made clear that Obama’s campaign commitments to eliminate both the crack/powder disparity and the ban on syringe exchange funding were now official administration policy. And last month Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made clear that the federal government would no longer target medical marijuana providers in the states that had legalized medical marijuana.

“It’s good to know that at last we’ll have a drug czar with a commitment to rolling back the excesses of America’s war on drugs.”

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

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