by Alex Kreit, assistant professor of law and director of Center for Law and Social Justice at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif. Kreit is author of a recent ACS Issue Brief, "Toward a Public Health Approach to Drug Policy."
Last Thursday, the Senate approved the nomination of Gil Kerlikowske to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)-a position commonly referred to as "drug czar." With issues like the economy and national security looming large, drug policy is not the high profile issue it once was in the late 1980's and early 1990's when, at one point, 64 percent of Americans listed drugs as the country's "greatest problem."
But, while drug abuse may not be the most pressing issue we face today, Kerlikowske will be taking office in the midst of an unprecedented shift in attitude among both policy-makers and the public opinion about our nation's drug policy. Since the beginning of 2009 alone, we've seen the Latin-American Commission on Drugs and Democracy led by three former Latin American Presidents (from Bolivia, Columbia, and Mexico) issue a report calling the war on drugs a "failed war," a proposal by Senator Jim Webb to create a blue-ribbon commission with an eye toward overhauling our criminal justice system, and the introduction of legislation in California to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. And, within just the past week California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said "it's time for a debate" about legalizing marijuana, and a Zogby poll found that 52% of voters nationwide support marijuana legalization.
In short, evidence is mounting that Americans want to put an end to our nearly forty-year failed war on drugs.
The question for Kerlikowske (right) and Obama will be whether they decide to take the lead in reforming drug policy or leave the task to the next administration.
The early signs have been encouraging that President Obama does not plan to blindly follow the drug war policies of the past. Since taking office, Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the administration will no longer raid medical marijuana clubs in states with medical marijuana laws and his office has called on Congress