The anticipated nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as federal “drug czar” has given hope to those who want drug policy to shift from an emphasis on arrest and prosecution to intervention, treatment and “harm reduction,” the New York Times reports. Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance notes that the Seattle area and Washington State “have really been at the forefront of harm reduction and other drug policy reform,” even if Kerlikowske has not led those efforts.
John Walters, the drug czar during most of George W. Bush’s administration, focused on tough enforcement of drug laws, including emphases on marijuana and drug use among youths. The office pointed to reductions in the use of certain kinds of drugs, but it was criticized by some local law enforcement officials who said priorities did not reflect local concerns, from methamphetamine to the fight against drug smuggling at the Mexican border. San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said that Kerlikowske “listens. He's very open to new ideas. He'll build cooperation. He’ll take a look at prevention as much as enforcement.” Drug arrests are down in Seattle and overall crime is at a 40-year low, though concerns have increased recently over gang violence. In 2001, a study found that more than half of adults arrested for drug crimes in Seattle were black, though under 10 percent of the population was black. The chief vowed to address the disparity, and it has decreased.