Pubdate: Tue, 13 Aug 2013
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2013 McClatchy
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is leaving office 
unceremoniously, forgotten long before he was ever known to most Americans.

But for those leading the push to legalize marijuana, he'll be 
remembered as the tough-talking former police chief from Seattle who 
never yielded on the question of legalization, always warning of the 
health dangers linked to smoking pot.

That stance put him at odds with the growing majority of Americans 
who now back legalization.

As Kerlikowske, 63, heads for a possible job as the U.S. Customs and 
Border Protection commissioner, his exit prompts suggestions that 
America's drug czar has become irrelevant and whether President Obama 
should bother with a replacement.

"One of the most helpful things the president can do right now is to 
not spend money on filling that position," said Seattle City Attorney 
Pete Holmes, whose office stopped prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana 
cases in 2010.

But legalization opponents say it would be a mistake to eliminate the 
office. They see it as a crucial vehicle for making clear to 
Americans the dangers and damages of a wide range of other drugs - 
from methamphetamine to cocaine to heroin - that the U. S. public 
wants kept illegal.

Kevin Sabet, who served as an adviser on drug issues to Obama and 
former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said the drug czar 
could serve as "a powerful conduit for the direction of drug policy."

He said the czar must make sure that the nearly one dozen federal 
agencies that deal with drug issues work in sync, but that the 
position had clear limits and no drug czar could legalize a drug that 
Congress had banned.

"Even if they wanted to, no one in the executive branch could 
legalize drugs ... because the Controlled Substances Act is the law 
of the land," he said.

Critics say the office, which Congress created in 1989, has no real 
power beyond doling out grants and providing a soapbox for government 
officials to decry drug use.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom