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June 14, 2011 at 9:06 AM

Stamper delivers critical drug report to Kerlikowske's office

Posted by Kyung M. Song

Updated at 7:05 p.m. with comment from drug czar's office.

WASHINGTON -- They are two former Seattle police chiefs on opposing sides of the debate on legalizing drugs. And on Tuesday, Norm Stamper walked to the office of the nation's "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske in Washington, D.C., to deliver a critical report on the Obama administration's failure to pull the plug on war on drugs.

Stamper appeared at the National Press Club at a news conference of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a national group that favors regulating sales of all illicit drugs, including marijuana, heroin and cocaine. Kerlikowske, who succeeded Stamper as Seattle's top cop in 2000, opposes legalization.

LEAP members walked four blocks from the Press Club to Kerlikowske's office at the Office of National Drug Control Policy near the White House. Kerlikowske sent a staffer downstairs to fetch the report.

Since President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse "America's public enemy No. 1" in 1971, millions of Americans have been incarcerated on drug-related offenses (including Kerlikowske's adopted son). About 1.5 million people in this country have been arrested over drugs for each of the past 10 years.

Yet the prevalence of drug use Americans hasn't changed much over the past 20 years. In 2009, nearly 22 milliion people 12 and older, or 8.7 percent of the population, admitted to taking illicit drugs in the prior month, according to a federal survey.

The solution, according to LEAP, is to legalize all drugs. That would wipe out violent drug cartels, avert needless imprisonment and free up money for drug prevention and treatment, LEAP says.

"We can not arrest ourselves out of this problem," Stamper said.

Stamper said he was "personally disappointed" that Kerlikowske hasn't matched his rhetoric two years ago to treat drug abuse less as a matter of law enforcement than as a public health problem. Stamper also said Kerlikowske was wrong to doubt the medical benefits of marijuana.

According to a spokesman for the drug control policy office, the fiscal 2011 federal budget includes more money for drug prevention and treatment ($10.4 billion) than on domestic law enforcement ($9.2 billion).

Stamper, who lives in San Juan Islands, said Washington state's regulation of medical pot is a mess. It's legal for patients to privately grow marijuana plants, but efforts to clearly legalize public marijuana dispensaries collapsed in this year's legislative session.

Stamper said Americans are increasingly coming to accept the notion of making pot legal, although California voters recently rejected making marijuana sales legal for anyone, not just for the ill.

Still, Stamper acknowledged that going from legal pot to legal crystal meth is a big leap. But the war on drugs is really a war on American people, "and I find that fundamentally immoral."

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