Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Meet the New Drug Czar, Same As The Old Drug Czar

Soon after taking office, our current president appointed a new director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, otherwise known as the Drug Czar. Nothing really surprising about the appointment, other than for the first time it is no longer a cabinet-level position (no explanation for that). But at the time, the marijuana news and blog sites were buzzing with facts and speculations about the new appointee, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske. Based on his history, some were actually hopeful that this new guy would be more sympathetic to the anti-prohibition cause than his predecessors. Sadly, these hopes were soon dashed as Mr. Kerlikowske has since stated publicly on more than one occasion that decriminalization and legalization are not in his vocabulary (nor in the president’s), and that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical uses. Period. End of “discussion.”

Apparently all these hopeful people were not aware of the Drug Czar’s job description, which which was modified by Congress in 1998 to read, in part:

The Director ... shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that ... is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration.

What this means is that the Drug Czar is required by law to oppose any efforts toward ending prohibition, and to even oppose medical or other research of schedule I substances (e.g., marijuana). So, when he says that certain words are not in his vocabulary, he means that literally. By law, he cannot speak in favor of any change in policy. You see, it doesn’t matter who the Drug Czar is, or what his personal opinions might be. His job is to do everything he can to maintain the status quo. In other words, to keep schedule I substances in schedule I. It wouldn’t have mattered if Woody Harrelson had been appointed Drug Czar, the message would have been the same. Any public statement contrary to the official position of the federal government would, at the very least, get him fired. My only question is, what’s the president’s excuse?

I don’t know about you, but this institutionalized lying seems just a tad blatant to me. Sure, all politicians lie. Much like death and taxes, it’s inevitable. But they typically don’t like to admit it, unless they get caught and have to. What’s unusual in this particular case is that lying is part of the job description. Regardless of any scientific evidence or public opinion, the Drug Czar must oppose any change in the current state of prohibition. Even if marijuana were widely accepted as having great medical value, he must say it doesn’t. Even if every citizen in the country were to be in favor of ending prohibition, he must say that it will never happen. So don’t blame Mr. Kerlikowske too much. He’s just being a good civil servant and fulfilling his job responsibilities as best he can.

The people you should be blaming are those that created the office of Drug Czar in the first place. And those that made the person holding that position into nothing more than a PR shill for the federal government. Once you understand the situation, you really can’t get too upset over what the Drug Czar says. Granted, some Czars have been more enthusiastic about it than others. OK, they’ve all be pretty enthusiastic crusaders for prohibition. But what can you expect? Given the job description, anyone with any contrary opinion (or self respect) probably wouldn’t even accept the appointment. Or be nominated in the first place.

To summarize, the Drug Czar has nothing to do with drug policy in this country, other than doing his best to make sure that it doesn’t change. No need to even listen to what he says, as it’s the same story we’ve been hearing for over 70 years now. So any time the Drug Czar makes a public statement, just move along, nothing to see here.

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