President Obama’s hand-picked ‘drug czar’, former police chief of Seattle Gil Kerlikowske, denounced legalization of cannabis for personal consumption by American adults at a National Press Club event.

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowski speaks to the National Press Club on US drug policy

Kerlikowski characterized the legalization of drugs in his discussion of cannabis legalization in Washington and Colorado as an “extreme position”, and went further to state bluntly that the Obama administration opposes “drug legalization.”

“The Justice Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,” Kerlikowske reminded reporters in prepared remarks.  He added, in what can only be interpreted as a warning to the citizens of states that have legalized cannabis through local democratic processes, “Neither a state nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.”

Kerlikowske then attempted to append a ‘public safety’ rational to his articulated support for a federalized law enforcement crack down on states that have voted to allow adults to use cannabis recreationally by admonishing, “Nor should we lose sight of the fundamental fact that using marijuana has public health consequences, and the most responsible public policy is one that restricts its availability and discourages its use.”

Kerlikowske flanked by health professionals specializing in treating drug addiction, said that the Obama administration’s approach to drug policy was not to wage a “war on drugs” nor was it to “legalize drugs”, rather, Kerlikowske said, the Obama administration favors focusing on reducing “drug use and its consequences” primarily drug addiction.  Kerlikowske said that the key component of the Obama administration’s approach to drug control is to focus on the “disease of addiction.”

Kerlikowske also compared what he termed “substance use disorder” with “progressive diseases”  stating that intervention by health professionals who have access to addiction treatment programs sponsored by the government is a “key aspect” of Obama’s approach to drug policy.  Kerlikowske did not comment on the irony that medical professionals across America prescribe the medicine of cannabis to treat many progressive diseases, including Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

Kerlikowske’s position that the federal government should take legal action because of the public dangers threatened by the addictive properties of cannabis are not shared by former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders who told CNN in 2010, “Marijuana is not addictive, not physically addictive anyway,” when she called for federal legalization of cannabis.  While the level of addiction that cannabis users experience is debatable, no health researcher or public health authority has stated that cannabis is more addictive than the legal consumer products alcohol and tobacco.

cross posted at mLaw