The Obama administration nominated as drug czar Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who said when accepting the post Wednesday that he has experienced the effects of drugs in his own family, but did not specifically mention his stepson, who is currently being held without bail in a Florida jail.
Mr. Kerlikowske’s adult stepson was arrested last month for a parole violation and faced misdemeanor drug charges in 2006 and 1998.
“Our nation’s drug problem is one of human suffering. And as a police officer, but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects that drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities,” said Mr. Kerlikowske, a 36-year law enforcement veteran.
He said the success of the nation’s drug control efforts are “largely dependent” on the ability to decrease demand, especially among young people.
“Tackling our nation’s complex drug problem takes a coordinated and multi-faceted effort,” Mr. Kerlikowske said. “There is much work to be done, I’m looking forward to getting to work.”
President Obama removed the czar post - with the official title head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy - from his Cabinet. Former President George W. Bush had elevated the post to the Cabinet level.
The White House said the Cabinet designation was not necessary since Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has worked on drug policy for decades and he will be right there with the president while the czar will have direct access to them both.
Mr. Biden said Wednesday there was “no one more qualified” to take the job. He also said the chief would aim for a balanced approach to the drug problem, which he said is one of the nation’s “most pervasive” and has the most direct relationship with violent crime
“The chief has been in the frontlines in the battle against drugs,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday, adding he fought to create the position decades ago. “He knows we need a comprehensive answer.”
The vice president said the challenges facing the new drug czar “are going to be daunting.”
Under Mr. Kerlikowske’s leadership, Seattle police drug policy has focused more on treatment and intervention than on drug arrests, which have declined since he became chief in 2000. Interest groups who believe the “war on drugs” is the wrong policy praised him as progressive and a signal Mr. Obama would reform the way the United States handles drug crime.
Mr. Kerlikowske, 59, was named to the chief post in Seattle in 2000. He came from the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, working with then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, who is now Mr. Obama’s attorney general.
Mr. Kerlikowske also was police commissioner in Buffalo, N.Y., after serving as police chief two Florida towns.