New drug czar gets lower rank, promise of higher visibility

As Joe Biden introduced the Obama administration’s choice for Drug Czar on Wednesday, he criticized what he said was the position's lowered profile during the Bush presidency.

Disappointing attention

In a ceremony in the ornate Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House, Mr. Biden said he had been, “a little disappointed the last eight years it hasn’t gotten the attention that it should have gotten. But that’s about to change.”

One reason the Drug Czar will have a higher profile, in Biden's view, is the administration’s nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to be Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  In addition to his duties in Seattle, Kerlikowske is currently serving as president of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association.

Mixed message on importance

But the administration is sending somewhat mixed signals on the position’s importance.  For one thing, in the Obama administration the Drug Czar will not have Cabinet status, as the job did during George W. Bush’s administration.  An unnamed official told the Washington Post the new drug czar would have “full access and a direct line to the president and the vice president.”

Only the VP

And with all due deference to the vice president, having him announce a nominee does not carry the same cachet as when the president himself does the unveiling.  In a good humored way, Biden alluded to that fact.  When he entered the room with Kerlikowske, those in the room stood.  Biden quipped, “Please sit down, I’m only the vice president.”

Biden called substance abuse “one of our nation’s most pervasive problems.”  One of Kerlikowske’s toughest challenges will be developing a southwest border strategy, Biden said.  Since the beginning of last year there have been nearly 7,000 drug related murders in Mexico.

First hand view of the costs

The nominee knows first hand the costs of drug abuse.  His stepson, Jeffrey, has an arrest record on drug changes, the Associated Press says.  At the ceremony where his nomination was announced Kerlikowske said, “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.”

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