This morning, President Obama nominated Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to be the Customs Commissioner.
Kerlikowske has been an unimaginative drug czar, often invisible. Having come from Seattle, Washington where he had been police chief, he was shrouded with hope that he would have enlightened views about harm reduction and marijuana use and enforcement. Those hopes were soon dashed. His office has accomplished little and his public statements have been uninspiring. He demonstrated no ability to influence the federal bureaucracy, and left ONDCP irrelevant in national drug policy efforts. ONDCP's role in forums of the United Nations, such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has been to stifle adoption of harm reduction, a singularly backward approach. His departure is good news for drug policy but bad news for the Department of Homeland Security and people who care about Customs enforcement.
Once again, Obama has an opportunity to reshape drug policy. Perhaps he could nominate U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), a leader in drug policy and criminal justice policy reform in Congress; Peter Beilenson, M.D. (CEO of Evergreen Health Co-Op; former Howard County, MD health commissioner, and former health commissioner under Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke); or U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) who also served for six years on the Colorado State Board of Education, including serving as Chairman. These men would bring a long missing sophisticated vision of drug policy to the White House.
At the Spring 2012 Meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Resolution 55/7 endorsing the use of Naloxone as a technique to prevent opiate overdose deaths was adopted with amazing speed. The U.S. appeared to have dropped its long-standing opposition to harm reduction measures and explicit overdose prevention strategies. The U.S. emissaries were representatives of Kerlikowske's ONDCP.
In November 2012, by video, Kerlikowske addressed the conference of the Harm Reduction Coalition in Portland, OR, and asked to work together.
In the past year, there has been important evidence of constructive policy change in ONDCP. I apologize for misrepresenting Kerlikowske's record.