DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: It might as well have been a lifetime ago when Gil Kerlikowske began his job as the nation’s top drug official back in 2009.
When President Obama appointed him to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy—a position known as the “drug czar”—only a dozen-plus states had legalized medical marijuana; a poll showing a minority of Americans support legalization could still be considered “record breaking;” and the disparity in sentences for users of crack and users of cocaine was still 100-1. The idea that two states would soon fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana seemed absurd.
Kerlikowske was fresh off a gig as police chief in Seattle, a city known for experimenting with progressive drug programs, giving reformers some hope and drug warriors some heartburn. But after a tenure that proved to be relatively conventional, Kerlikowske has been tapped to head Customs and Border Protection, and is expected to be replaced by someone who could represent a sea change in federal drug policy.