In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Kerlikowske said the United States drug policy needs to shift the emphasis from incarceration to treatment.
"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," Kerlikowske told the Journal. "We're not at war with people in this country."
Kerlikowske did not offer up an alternative phrase, though if previous nomenclatural adjustments by the Obama team are any indication, any new phraseology may lack the same punch. Merits aside, it's fair to say that "Overseas Contingency Operation," the administration's re-branding of the "War On Terror," doesn't have quite the same ring as the more hawkish term did.
Though Kerlikowske's statements to the Journal are particularly blunt, the Obama administration has already made moves to reorient the country's response to the drug trade and addiction. In March, Attorney General Eric Holder said that federal agents would only target medical marijuana dispensaries when they violated state and federal law. Under the Bush administration, medical marijuana distributors were targeted even if they complied with state laws.
Last week, the administration joined a federal judge in urging Congress to equalize punishments for crack dealers and users with those for dealers and users of powdered cocaine. The administration argued that this disparity in sentencing was unfair to African American communities, where crack-cocaine has historically been more prevalent.
In tapping Kerlikowske for the cabinet-level position, President Obama selected a law enforcement veteran who is no stranger to unorthodox methods of policing drugs. As Seattle's police chief, Kerlikowske permitted medical marijuana distributors to operate their businesses so long as they confined them to a few block radius in the city's business distract.