Gil Kerlikowske

  • September 26, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Alex Kreit, Associate Professor of Law, Director, Center for Law & Social Justice, Co-Director, Criminal Law Fellowship Program, Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Kreit is also author of the ACS Issue Brief, “Toward a Public Health Approach to Drug Policy.”

    When Gil Kerlikowske took office as drug czar four years ago, he said he was going to retire the concept of the war on drugs. During Obama’s first term, however, his policies did not live up to the bold rhetoric.  There were a handful of reforms -- perhaps most notably, a reduction (though not elimination) of the disparity between crack and powder cocaine. But at its core, federal drug policy remained almost entirely unchanged between 2009 and 2012.

    In recent weeks, the Obama administration has turned its words into action by tackling one of the most significant and criticized features of the drug war: mandatory minimum sentencing.

    Enacted in the 1980s, the mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws were the embodiment of the “war on drugs” mentality.  Indeed, it’s difficult to think of another federal law or policy as closely linked to the drug war. 

    Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new charging policy, instructing federal prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases that met certain criteria.  With some of the criteria left open to interpretation, I wrote last month that only time would tell the policy’s true impact. Will the Department of Justice closely monitor local prosecutors to ensure compliance and consistent interpretation of the policy?  Or, will federal prosecutors be given the leeway to circumvent or narrowly apply the new policy?

    While it will take at least a few more months to know the answers to these questions, last week Attorney General Holder issued a second memo that provides reason for optimism. Holder’s most recent memo expands the new policy by applying it to defendants who have already been charged and encouraging prosecutors to follow the guidance even in cases where the defendant has already pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing, where it is “legally and practically feasible.”

    This development is a hopeful sign that the Department of Justice is serious about its new policy. 

  • April 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Despite the rhetoric to move beyond a perpetual “war on drugs” the Obama administration remains mired in the tough-on-drugs mindset and its Justice Department seems befuddled by the states that have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report revealing that the administration’s goals set out in 2010 have largely not been met. The report noted that the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other federal agencies established “seven Strategy goals related to reducing illicit drug use and its consequences by 2015.” GAO continued, “As of March 2013,” its “analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results were available, one shows progress and four show no progress.”

    But, as The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge reports drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has just released another drug control plan that builds on the policies the GAO has said are not working. More troubling, Sledge notes that the drug office’s budget “still devotes less than half of it funds to treatment and prevention. The GAO found that prevention and treatment programs are ‘fragmented’ across 15 federal agencies.”

    In an April 24 post on its web site, the Office of National Drug Control Policy bemoans “illicit drug use,” claiming “drug-induced overdose deaths now surpass homicides and car crashes as the leading cause of injury or death in America.” It also declares “we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem.”

    The language from the administration’s drug control office is softer than rhetoric about the “war on drugs,” which the Nixon administration launched with the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) several decades ago. But the administration’s drug control office is not embracing drug legalization or even any changes to the CSA, such as removing marijuana from the list of drugs deemed as dangerous as say heroin.

    The muddled message from the Obama administration -- not helped by its Justice Department’s silence on how it will respond to Colorado and Washington, where officials are crafting measures to implement and regulate the recreational use of marijuana -- is preserving tough-on-drugs policies.

  • June 11, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Alex Kreit, assistant professor of law and director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif. Kreit is author of an ACS Issue Brief, "Toward a Public Health Approach to Drug Policy."
    With the recent release of the Obama administration's National Drug Control Strategy, and drug policy increasingly making headlines with California's marijuana legalization measure set to appear on the ballot in the fall, now is a useful time to take a quick look at where our nation's drug policy appears to be heading. Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Gil Kerlikowske assumed his job a little over a year ago on a promising note by saying that the time had come to discard the outdated and unhelpful terminology of a "war on drugs."

    Since that time, the Obama administration has made a number of noteworthy policy shifts. The administration announced that they will no longer arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and caregivers in compliance with state medical marijuana laws (though it bears mentioning that some local offices may not always be faithfully abiding by this policy). Obama's Justice Department has worked to reduce the "100-to-1" sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine. It has also lifted the ban on federal funding of syringe exchange programs.

    In announcing its new drug control strategy last month, the administration emphasized the importance of shifting away from the "war on drugs" mentality and treating drug abuse primarily as a public health issue. Kerlikowske (pictured) told The Associated Press, for example, that "[i]n the grand scheme, [the current strategy] has not been successful" and that forty years after Nixon began the drug war "the concern about drugs and the drug problem is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

    Unfortunately, at least for the time being, the strategy does not quite match the administration's vision and continues to fund many of the very same programs that have "not been successful" at the same or greater levels as in previous years. As Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, has pointed out, contrary to the administration's effort to paint the strategy as a major step toward treatment and away from incarceration-oriented policies, 64 percent of the $15.5 billion federal drug control budget will be spent on interdiction and law enforcement while only 36 percent will go to treatment and prevention. This is virtually the same supply-and-demand allocation as under President Bush's final drug control strategy. And, if we go back further, we find that the percentage of President Obama's budget earmarked for demand reduction is actually less than in recent past. In 2002, 46 percent of the total drug control budget was spent on demand reduction efforts, a full 12 percent higher than under Obama's budget.

  • May 24, 2010
    The Obama administration's recently released drug control strategy has drawn some plaudits for shifting from prior administrations' policies of focusing almost exclusively on punishing suppliers.

    Although Harold Pollack in an article for The New Republic says the policy, released last week, still focuses too much on the supply-side, he maintained, "America's drug policies just got a whole lot better." Pollack says the policy released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) still continues to "spend billions on operations against drug suppliers which have little demonstrated value."

    But, in his TNR article, Pollack says ONDCP head Gil Kerlikowske (pictured with President Obama) should be credited with limiting the "traditional blunderbuss rhetoric of American drug policy." Pollack continues, "This change is matched by Kerlikowske's personal inclusiveness and civility, traits that his Republican predecessor John Walters - who is known for alienating liberals and conservatives alike with his ecumenical disregards for opposing views - certainly did not possess.

    Even before the release of the ONDCP's 2010 National Drug Strategy, Newsweek reported on a leaked version of it.

    In a post for The Reality-Based Community blog, Professor Mark Kleiman discussed the leak, but also noted that the "new strategy can't completely avoid the trap of bowing in the direction of existing programs to get past agency review, and it has its share of pointless quantitative goals (some of them mandated by law). For example, there's no reason to think that the federal government has the capacity to reduce prevalence of drug use by 15%, or that raising the fraction of drugs seized on their way to the U.S. is either feasible or useful."

    Kleiman, professor of Public Policy and Director of the Drug Policy Analysis Program at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, however, said the strategy provides a list of positives. He writes:

    But the strategy offers a fairly impressive list of innovations to set off against those disappointments. Of course the ones that matter most to me testing-and-sanctions programs for drug-involved offenders (which the "formidable" Bennett and McCaffrey never dared to endorse) and David Kennedy's Drug Market Intervention program designed to eliminate problematic drug markets without mass arrests. Together, those two programs alone would radically reduce the links between drugs and crime, and yet because they're neither "supply" or "demand" programs and have no visceral appeal to either side of the culture wars, they've struggled to get attention.

    Rather than just promising to pump more money into the existing drug-treatment machinery, the strategy focuses on the contribution the mainstream health-care effort could make toward dealing with substance abuse, in particular screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT). The money potentially available for his purpose under the health care bill, and in particular through the community clinic system, dwarfs the formal treatment system. The strategy aims to make sure that potential gets used; if it does, the effective balance between "supply" and "demand" spending would shift radically in fact, though it wouldn't change on paper.

  • May 14, 2009
    The new head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn't believe the nation is fighting a so-called war on drugs. In an interview with the newspaper, Kerlikowske described the war on drugs terminology as unhelpful. "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. We're not at war with people in this country." The WSJ says Kerlikowske's comment underscores "a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use."

    Professor Alex Kreit, in guest post for ACSblog, examined the new administration's evolving stance on drug use, writing that "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 public opinion about our nation's drug policy." In a recent ACS Issue Brief, Kreit, an assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and director of the school's Center for Law and Social Justice, wrote that the nation's "war on drugs" has failed, and that the new administration and Congress should support policies that help people overcome drug abuse. Kreit suggests that government should shift focus to supporting drug treatment and prevention measures.