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Will Kerlikowske help get U.S. a rational drug policy?

A fragrance may be in the air when the U.S. Senate takes up nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to become the Obama administration’s drug czar.

free the weed cannabis marijuanaIt won’t be the bad odor of scandal or tax problems, but the sweet smell of Seattle Hempfest, which draws more than 75,000 people to the Emerald City’s waterfront each summer.

If he’s of a candid frame of mind, the chief could make three points:

a) The crowd is so mellow that Hempfest is desired overtime for Seattle’s finest.

b) Hempfest polices its grounds better than almost any summer festival in the city, particularly the hydro races; c) A voter-passed initiative puts marijuana possession at the bottom of Seattle’s law enforcement priorities.

It’ll be great to hear a response from the wonderfully named Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, diehard defender of the slippery-slope theory that marijuana use leads to harder drugs.

A curious argument, in that at least 90 million Americans — including President Obama and former President Bill “I didn’t inhale!” Clinton — have smoked the forbidden weed.

Are they addicts? Heck, most of the pot smokers of my youth have grown up to be wine snobs.

Appropriate to March, signs are sprouting that America is headed toward a more sane drug policy.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced a change in medical marijuana policy on Wednesday, saying the feds will go after marijuana distributors when they violate BOTH federal and state law. Under the Bush administration, medical marijuana dispensaries in California were targeted even though the Golden State voted to allow marijuana possession as a relief for pain.

Washington is one of 13 states permitting medical use of marijuana. California has seen more drug raids because its law allows dispensaries that sell the forbidden weed.

“Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with state and federal law,” Holder told reporters at the Justice Department.

Ending medical marijuana raids “is now American policy,” the attorney general added.

In short, the feds will direct their energies toward such big-scale grow operations as one discovered last summer above Ruby Arm of Ross Lake in the North Cascades National Park Complex. Hopefully, too, they will set an example for county sheriffs whose idea of law and order is to bust in on a cancer or MS patient growing a few plants for personal use.

Kerlikowske is potentially the ideal person to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and overhaul its mission. He’s a cop’s cop, current president of the Major City Chiefs Association. He has headed police departments in New York and Florida, and worked with Holder at the Department of Justice in the late 1990’s.

U.S. drug enforcement policy has seemed dated, clumsy and comic.In 2005, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle brought charges of trafficking marijuana seeds against Marc Emery. Emery is founder of the Marijuana Party in British Columbia and publisher of Cannabis Culture.

Drug Enforcement Administration boss Karen Tandy blasted forth with a press release — misspelling Emery’s first name — claiming the bust was a “significant blow” to the marijuana trade. She stated — erroneously — that Emery has channeled “illicit profits” to marijuana legalization groups.

She turned a publicity seeker into a Canadian martyr, and made professional prosecutors in Seattle squirm. A fellow bigfoot, U.S. drug policy chief John Walters, blew into Vancouver, B.C., seven years ago. He warned that crossing the border would get tougher if the Canadian city adopted a drug policy based on treatment rather than punishment.

“The pressure was intense,” then-Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen recalled later.Still, Vancouver opted for a so-called Four Pillars drug strategy: Treatment, harm reduction, prevention and enforcement.

A former drug-squad cop, coroner, and Vancouver mayor, Canadian Sen. Larry Campbell has likened former U.S. drug czars to Russia’s ill-fated Romanoffs.”Drug czars are the most ill-informed people in government . . . They are still living in an era of Reefer Madness,” Campbell once told me, referring to the infamous 1930’s movie.

As an employee of a new entity, I had to take a drug test Thursday morning. It should find that I drank beer at spring training in Arizona last week, and that Jesse Wendel of Group News Blog bought me a Makers Mark Manhattan to toast the print P-I.

‘Could not help think, however, of what Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina said when a GOP opponent challenged him to take a drug test. “I’ll take a drug test if he’ll take an intelligence test,” Hollings retorted. Holder and Kerlikowske would pass both.

Some in the Senate who question them ought to avoid the second test.
Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or joelconnelly@seattlepi.com.


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