De-escalating the Drug War:

The NYT has an interesting article suggesting President Obama's choice for "drug czar" (aka the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) could alter federal drug policy in positive ways.

The anticipated selection of Chief Kerlikowske has given hope to those who want national drug policy to shift from an emphasis on arrest and prosecution to methods more like those employed in Seattle: intervention, treatment and a reduction of problems drug use can cause, a tactic known as harm reduction. Chief Kerlikowske is not necessarily regarded as having forcefully led those efforts, but he has not gotten in the way of them.

"What gives me optimism," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "is not so much him per se as the fact that he's been the police chief of Seattle. And Seattle, King County and Washington State have really been at the forefront of harm reduction and other drug policy reform." . . .

Under John P. Walters, the drug czar during most of the administration of President George W. Bush, the drug office focused on tough enforcement of drug laws, including emphases on marijuana and drug use among youths. The agency pointed to reductions in the use of certain kinds of drugs, but it was criticized by some local law enforcement officials who said its priorities did not reflect local concerns, from the rise of methamphetamine to the fight against drug smuggling at the Mexican border.

As an anti-prohibitionist, I think de-escalation of the drug war would be a very welcome policy shift, but I am skeptical. I think it might be very difficult for the Obama Administration to openly shift resources away from traditional enforcement efforts, as this would open up the Administration to the charge that it is "soft on crime" -- an allegation to which Democratic/liberal administrations are more politically vulnerable. Still, a shift from the harsh prohibitionism of the Bush Administration would be a very good thing.