During the early speculation (my brief pre-take) the name of Jim Ramsted (TierneyLab take) was raised as possbile head of the Office of Drug Control Policy. Ramsted, a Republican Congressman had a record of opposing needle-exchange programs and medical marijuana. Now Obama has apparently settled on R. Gil Kerlikowske, the Seattle Chief of Police.
President Barack Obama has selected Seattle's police chief to be the nation's next drug czar, an administration official said Thursday.
Gil Kerlikowske will lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position that has in past administrations been a Cabinet-level post, according to an official who would speak only on the condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made.
The official did not know if the position would be a Cabinet post, but said its status would become clear when Kerlikowske was announced. The official did not know when the appointment would be announced.
Well, I certainly hope it continues to be a Cabinet level position. Beyond the obvious homer issues, Obama made it reasonably clear that he would take a position on drug use and drug abuse issues that differed from the past four Presidential administrations (yes, including Clinton). In addition it is obvious that if Obama is able to launch a massive reconsideration of health care policy in the US that parity for the mental and behavioral disorders will be on the table. So the authority of a Cabinet level position would help empower the ONDCP.
Unfortunately it is hard to get a bead on the politics. Obama didn't talk about drug abuse issues all that much during the campaign. A great unknown is to what extent he will expend political effort on these issues. Keeping the ONDCP head at a Cabinet level would be an important indication that he plans to make things happen.
Drug Policy Alliance views Kerlikowske's selection as a glass half-empty:
While we're disappointed that President Obama has selected another law enforcement official instead of a major public health advocate, we're cautiously optimistic that this nominee will support the president's drug policy reform agenda.
TIME magazine has a big run-down here and the Seattle Post-Intellengencer piece is here.
The summary take seems to be that Chief Kerlikowske is a progressive police chief, even for a reasonably progressive city like Seattle. So much so that he's at odds with his rank and file. Nevertheless, this is a police chief who officially made minor cannabis possession the "lowest priority", supported needle exchanges and methadone treatment.
Most of this, from my perspective, is from memory and I seem to recall this guy being sort of ...careful. Which you would expect, given his job. Lots of vocal support and progressive ideas, not really sure of the accomplishments. Right now teh Googles are dominated by the ONDCP story so I haven't been able to run down hard evidence on his accomplishments. That's my lazy blogger excuse, sue me.
Still memory is consistent with this summary:
Kerlikowske ... has embraced harm reduction projects, including needle exchange, methadone vans, and drug courts, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Notably, under Kerlikowske, police have not engaged in raids or arrests of medi-pot patients or growers. (Washington enacted its medi-pot law in 1998.)
he initially did not support a city initiative making pot-law enforcement a lowest law enforcement priority, the chief has since embraced the measure, ordering officers to comply with its provisions.
Overall though, he seems like a guy who might listen to the science once in awhile. Just like Obama. So I'm optimistic.