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President Obama's drug policy adviser on medical marijuana and enforcement

A budtender handles marijuana at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on Sept. 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

On election day, voters in Washington and Colorado went for President Obama. They also voted to legalize marijuana.

But Gil Kerlikowske, the president's top drug adviser, says that states that have passed their own laws to legalize or decriminalize marijuana shouldn't assume the federal government will look the other way.

"There has been nothing that I have seen or heard from the Department of Justice that says 'Look we're not going to continue to enforce federal law,'" he says. "And we're going to continue to take a hard look at those people who are involved in making money on essentially a violation of federal law."

But Kerlikowske is no fan of the traditional approach to the "War on Drugs." He says "it's a huge mistake to give people the impression that this is a win or lose situation...we have to work really hard in this country to give young people the foundation they need to achieve what they want to do."

Kerlikowske favors treatment for addiction over incarceration, a preference that is reflected in his most recent budget.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Great comment, David.

I'd like to add, on the record that:

It's going to be very difficult, Mr. Kerlikowske, for me to do what I want to do because of the law.

I'd like to slow my mother's and grandmother's brain ageing with a steady, home-grown and organic green diet of cannabinoid acid-rich (non-psychoactive; raw leaf) juice, cannabinoid and terpene-rich (psychoactive; hash) resin oil (*only very controlled doses), essential amino and omega fatty acid-rich hemp seeds, and vitamin and mineral-rich hemp sprouts. The cannabis doesn't have to be high in THC, it could be high in CBD. We could use that Israeli strain with over 15% CBD and under 2% THC; maybe it will curb the panic attacks the woman in my family have (and help them sleep freer of nerve pain). Why don't we at least reclassify cannabis, so it can be studied like a therapeutic herb and not just simply a poisonous narcotic?

However, the foundation I require, my backyard, is off limits because growing hemp/cannabis for such preposterous reasons as health and longevity might send kids the wrong message about hypocritical drug laws or impair my grandmother's ability to learn in school, while simultaneously undercutting pharmaceutical companies that are spending millions to land a potential "treasure trove" of pharmaceutical patents further down the "endocannabinoid-targeted" pipeline.

Had Marketplace staff and Kai Ryssdal included an important fact about Gil Kerlikowske's professional life, this interview on drug policy in the wake of legalizations of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state could have been so much more productive. For the eight years immediately prior to becoming "drug czar", Kerlikowske had been the Chief of Police of Washington's largest city, Seattle.

Ryssdal said to Kerlikowske, (quote) You are known to not be a fan of the phrase "the war on drugs" and I wonder it that is because first of all it is very broad brush but also because it is also one of those things that is also not quite winnable. (quote)
Ryssdal could instead have said, (quote) ...You are known not to be a fan of the term "the war on drugs" and I wonder if that is because for eight years you were the Chief of Police in Seattle, Washington's largest city, where early in your time as Chief the city made marijuana enforcement its lowest priority. Isn't the current stand of the Obama administration and your office in contradiction to that policy when you were in Seattle? (end quote)

Ryssdall goes on to ask Kerlikowske (quote) But it is time to sort of put your money where your mouth is, right? (end quote). Again, a more challenging interview might have been had if Ryssdal were aware that Kerlikowske had already put his money where his mouth was when as Seattle Police chief he said that arrests for marijuana possession by adults for personal consumption were already his department's lowest priority. From there the question about emphasizing treatment would have had more context in terms of Kerlikowske's past views and positions and the current direction of his office and his boss, the President.

A journalistic opportunity missed, in my opinion...

David Brookbank, Spokane, Washington

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