In his first public appearance since being confirmed on May 7, Kerlikowske, in a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, said he wants to end the "War On Drugs" and said he favors policies that emphasize making treatment available to drug users rather than putting them behind bars.
Kerlikowske spoke with unusual candor about the failure of the War On Drugs' approach. With about one in every 31 Americans either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation, his ideas, once considered radical, may find a more receptive audience than ever before. Many people are serving time in the United States after being convicted of non-violent drug crimes.
Kerlikowske's break with "War On Drugs" rhetoric was dramatic: "We're not at war with people in this country," he told the Journal. "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."
Attorney General Eric Holder had already told reporters that President Barack Obama would fulfill his campaign promise of ending federal raids on medical Marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. However, Drug Enforcement Agency raids have continued to target medical Marijuana dispensaries in California -- including a March action here in San Francisco.
Opponents of the Drug War, which was ramped up in the early 1970s by the Nixon Administration and has continued unabated since, point out that prison and jail sentences for non-violent drug offenses remove otherwise productive citizens from the workforce and make them instead a burden on taxpayers. While Kerlikowske doesn't have the power to enforce any policy changes himself, if the Obama Administration works with Congress and federal agencies like the DEA to alter current policies, it could make a huge difference in both the tenor of the U.S. drug debate, and in its results.
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