Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kerlikowske vs. Walters

While the newest director of the ONDCP, Gil Kerlikowske, isn't likely to be advocating for legalization anytime soon - I think he may be taking us in the right direction - toward actually caring about substance abuse.
"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," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."
For the past 8 years the focus of the ONDCP has been honed on marijuana. And we've most certainly been at war with people that use drugs. Marijuana, then drug czar John Walters would say, is as dangerous as crack. He opposed state medical marijuana laws (again comparing it to "medical crack") and has spoken out against states making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority. But Kerlikowske is different. In this interview with the Wall Street Journal, Kerlikowske was asked:

What's the number one drug problem?

Well [illegal] prescription drug use is rising and one problem I want to shout about. At the federal level it's easy to look at things nationally but drug issues are different depending on the geography. In some places meth may be far more serious, even though on a national scale it doesn't appear that way. In Appalachia Oxycotin may be far more serious. I want to look at things regionally and in a narrower focus than in a national focus.

Without a doubt, Walters would have answered marijuana to that question. He may have thrown meth in their too but not without claiming that marijuana leads to meth. Kerlikowske doesn't even mention marijuana. He states the truth - prescription drugs and their diversion are a serious problem. He's also smart to look at this regionally rather than create a blanket campaign against a single drug.

Check out this 2003 article from the Seattle Times concerning Seattle's lowest law enforcement priority ballot question. You'll see that Kerlikowske opposed the initiative for an almost sensible reason: Arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use, says Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, is not a priority now. Officers aren't now bringing in everyone they see smoking a joint, he said.

Kerlikowske at least promises to take his job more seriously than Walters. He doesn't have to support legalization for me to get behind policies that make sense. Furthermore, I don't think full out legalization is necessary for us to make improvements with treating drug addiction (though it sure would help a lot) because as LEAP's Peter Christ says "Legalizing drugs is not the answer to our drug problem. Legalizing drugs is the answer to our crime problem." The drug problem, unfortunately, isn't going anywhere - its here to stay - legalized drugs or not. But we can stop throwing gas on the fire now.

If Kerlikowske is ready to put our money where his mouth is - we'll see a campaign from the ONDCP that shows needle exchange programs work to reduce disease transmissions and provide places where addicts can go to get help and eventually - off drugs. We'll see funding for law enforcement decrease and treatment funding increase (you'll see here that Obama's budget, while increasing treatment funding, also decreases prevention funding and unfortunately calls for more $$ for law enforcement). Talking dogs and flying aliens warning our kids about pot will be replaced with realistic drug education that focuses on America's real drug problems - not support for a witch-hunt of marijuana users.

Deprioritization is key at this point. We can't focus on marijuana anymore and I think our new drug czar knows this. At least that much leaves me optimistic.

FBI Director Gets Schooled on Marijuana

It seems like one congressman has had just about enough of marijuana prohibition. Congressman Steven Cohen of Tennessee wasn't taking any shit when he questioned FBI director Robert Mueller on whether he thinks the drug war has been successful - considering, well you know... the violence on the Mexican border, more 10th graders now smoking marijuana than tobacco, American voters supporting legalization, our newest drug czar calling drug abuse a public health issue, Olympic superstars smoking the ganj, 2 states introducing marijuana legalization legislation - that stuff.

Mueller: "Uh, I think there have been some success..."
Cohen: "You say some success. Do you have any statistics for those successes? The statistics I have show there are more people smoking marijuana."
Mueller: "All I can say is ask the parents of a child that has died from drugs."
Cohen: "Show me the parents of a child that had died from marijuana."
Mueller: "I can't"
Cohen: "That's right - because that hasn't happened."

Oh, just watch it for yourself.

Tancredo says Legalize Drugs!

Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said its time to consider legalizing drugs. The conservative is coming from this at a very common sense level - prohibition doesn't work. He realizes we have nothing to show for the wasted resources and lives that have resulted in a clogged criminal justice system and a prison overcrowding crisis. And as Tancredo says himself:
"It is now easier for a kid to get drugs at most schools in America that it is booze."
One person in opposition to Tancredo's stance gave the same ol' same ol' "what about the children?" excuse. "Kids will look at that and say,'Well, it must be all right because it's legal now."

I just gave a presentation to high school juniors and seniors in Oakland, CA. I asked the students a simple question: "If heroin or meth became legal today - how many of you would go out and use them?" Not a single hand went up and a few of them shouted "hell no!"