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Originally published Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 3:44 PM

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Editorial

New Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske brings Northwest lessons

As "drug czar" at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske should offer some of the lessons learned in the Pacific Northwest. Among them: Allow needle exchanges and the use of medical marijuana, offer low-level offenders drug treatment as an alternative to prison and follow more of a harm-reduction policy in general.

CONGRATULATIONS to Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske for being chosen to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Along with the high federal appointments for King County Executive Ron Sims and former Gov. Gary Locke, Kerlikowske's appointment gives hope that experience from this part of America will influence national policy.

With Sims, that experience is in public housing, which has a better record here than in the big cities of the Midwest and East. With Locke, it is trade with Asia, which has given this region a forward-looking view of global competition. With Kerlikowske, it is a willingness to think critically about the war on drugs.

He comes from a state whose citizens voted not to enforce the federal law if marijuana is used as medicine. He also comes from a city whose people voted to make marijuana possession the lowest priority for police work.

Kerlikowske didn't support that measure, but he learned to live with it. His police force has been tolerant at Seattle's annual Hempfest.

Concerning the stronger drugs, Kerlikowske has tolerated needle-exchange programs. He has supported drug court, which offers treatment to low-level offenders as an alternative to prison. He has a son who has been arrested for drugs, so he has seen the drug war from that angle, too.

Kerlikowske is not a legalizer, nor is President Obama. Federal agents will still interdict drugs coming into the United States and attack trafficking internally.

But under Kerlikowske there should be more respect for medical science, psychology and economics — and of the limitations of police and prisons.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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