Abolishing The War On Drugs

The Obama administration's newly confirmed drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, tells The Wall Street Journal that he wants to abolish the term "war on drugs":

"Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."

Reason's Jacob Sullum notes that Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Bill Clinton's drug czar, took a similar approach to the "drug war" terminology and turned out to be a hardliner--a point echoed by Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann. Drug law reformists are happy nonetheless.

From Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, who was also quoted in the WSJ article (transcribed from a phone interview):

Kerlikowske is not the first drug czar to say he doesn't like he doesn't like the "drug war" language, and that's because drug czars since the '90s [have known] that the large majority of Americans, according to one poll after another, have said that they believe the war on drugs has failed and that it is doomed to failure. And so for that reason, drug czars back to McCaffrey have preferred not to use the rhetoric of the war on drugs. So what is significant about Kerlikowske and his comments is...in saying that the war on drugs is a war on people...his elaboration on why he did not like the phrase was important.

We're clearly moving int he right direction, but it is, as I said in the piece, about turning around an ocean liner, so there is a lot more room to go, especially if we're going to make good on a paradigm shift.

From Bruce Mirken, communications director of Marijuana Policy Project (via email):

I think this is a meaningful shift in tone, another indication that the zealots formerly in charge of drug policy have been replaced by people -- Kerlikowske in particular -- who at least have some connection to reality. I don't think we're going to see a revolution in marijuana policy coming from the administration, but I think we're entering an era when rational discussion is at last possible. The long term question will be whether at some point Obama will be willing to expend a little political capital on marijuana and drug policy issues.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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