The U.S. government officially has a new drug czar: Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske sailed through his Senate confirmation process today on a 91-1 vote Thursday after passing un-contentiously through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved him without a recorded vote in a business meeting off the Senate floor in late April.
At first glance, one might expect Kerlikowske to draw at least a little bit of fire. He's the top local law enforcer for a city where marijuana has been essentially decriminalized--the home of an annual Hempfest that sees a hazy cloud of weed smoke, general cannabis revelry, and few arrests.
But Kerlikowske, as it has been noted, is just following orders: the city's voters passed an initiative making marijuana the city's "lowest law enforcement priority," and Kerlikowske has implemented the policy faithfully, despite the fact that he did not support it. It's tough to argue against a law enforcement official who faithfully implements the law, whether or not he agrees with it--and perhaps that's why few in the Senate did.
Kerlikowske comes into his new position at an interesting time for U.S. drug policy. The country faces a Mexican drug war whose violence threatens to brim over into the U.S.; President Obama promised on the campaign trail to ease up on federal medical marijuana raids, though some raids were conducted shortly after he took office; marijuana is now a hot topic--with polls showing more support of legalization (see Nate Silver's breakdown here), with the drug war fueling some arguments to legalize in California, and with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger saying this week that it's time to debate the regulation and taxation of marijuana to ease government debt.