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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Drug Czar Says We're in a "Serious National Conversation About Marijuana"

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Gil Kerlikowske
  • Gil Kerlikowske

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is in an unenviable position. The former Seattle police chief is criss-crossing the country advocating a different approach to drug law enforcement, while explaining why steps like the one his erstwhile home state took -- legalizing small amounts of marijuana -- are absolutely unacceptable. Amid talk of drug treatment and drug education, in a speech in San Francisco on Monday, he even went as far as to take a pot shot at medical marijuana.

It's clear marijuana is on the minds of many people in the country -- and it's in Kerlikowske's head, too. This week, in response to more than 100,000 online signatures asking the White House to do something different about cannabis, Kerlikowske provided a breakthrough of sorts, admitting "We're in a serious national conversation about marijuana." Just a mostly one-sided one, at least on the federal level.

Proving that this is indeed a White House the public can access, Kerlikowske wrote in response to several online petitions. The same forum and format for recently newsworthy efforts as attempting to deport Piers Morgan and allow states secede from Obama's Union, the petitions earn an official White House response if more than 25,000 people sign onto them within 30 days.

Marijuana is extremely web-friendly, it turns out, so three weed-related petitions earned more than 170,000 signatures. Kerlikowske responded to all three simultaneously. One, "Remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and allow the states to decide how they want to regulate it," received 83,684 virtual signatures with a very brief statement.

Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we're in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.

At President Obama's request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.

Kerlikowske then posted the transcript of Obama's interview with Barbara Walters, in which the veteran journo asked the president if he thought marijuana should be legalized. The onetime "Choom Gang" member deferred to Congress on the legality issue and to the voters in Washington and Colorado.

It's worth noting that the federal rhetoric on drugs does involve treatment and education as much as it does calls for cops, but Kerlikowske on Monday also made no bones about his office's disdain for legalization as a magic bullet cure-all, and also made waves when he said calling marijuana medicine "sends a terrible message" to our nation's teens. Unless those teens have a family member or friend whose health was saved by the magic plant, we suppose (or if they are medicinal users themselves).

"I guess it makes a difference when marijuana legalization gets more votes than your boss does in an important swing state, as happened in Colorado this last election," said Tom Angell, chairman and spokesman for the Marijuana Majority, a legalization advocacy group. "From 'legalization is not in my vocabulary and it's not in the president's,' as Gil Kerlikowske often used to say, to 'it is clear that we're in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana' is a pretty stark shift."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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