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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Release of the Obama Administration's National Drug Control Strategy

FPC Briefing
Gil Kerlikowske
Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
May 11, 2010

Date: 05/11/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Gil Kerlikowske, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy on ''Release of the Obama Administration's National Drug Control Strategy'' - State Dept Image


10:30 A.M. EDT

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: Good morning, everyone, and thank you very much for being here. This morning, President Obama released his first National Drug Control Strategy and we have been spending a great deal of time putting that together. It involves not only the importance of what is going on here in the United States and the number of visits that we have made back and forth across the country, but also the real importance that is has in dealing with our foreign partners and on the drug issues surrounding them. So let me just make a few remarks and then I’m happy to answer as many questions as possible.

Yesterday afternoon, I briefed President Obama and went into some levels of detail. Now, he had read and been engaged in this issue for quite some time with me. In fact, last summer, he had directed that I have as many voices as possible. And that’s why on my visits to ten different nations during this period, your voices, the voices of other countries, are clearly recognized and can be seen throughout the strategy. It’s comprehensive. It’s balanced. It’s a good approach to achieve two objectives: to reduce our drug use in the United States – and of course, we recognize that imperative; and to lessen the consequences of illicit drug production, trafficking, and abuse. It recognizes the responsibility if we can shrink our domestic market here in the United States, those are the profits that provide so much in – for organized crime. Much of the organized crime is, in fact, outside our borders, and we address that responsibility directly through the strong emphasis that we are placing on both prevention and treatment here at home.

In the year since I accepted the position of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and in visiting countries throughout the world, talking with many, many people, visiting treatment centers, whether it was in Mexico, or prevention programs in Colombia, in Afghanistan treatment programs and, of course, some very close dealings with Russia, it’s very clear to me that every nation, regardless of levels of economy within those nations, every nation is dealing with increasing numbers of people who are involved in abusing and misusing drugs. And that’s a significant problem. President Uribe has mentioned to me that Colombia is not just a – it is not just a nation that has produced cocaine, it is also a nation that is consuming drugs, and there is concern there. President Calderon, as you well know, has expressed that concern, and the First Lady of Mexico Margarita Zevala, has taken that issue head on. And of course, in Russia we have had – made a great amount of progress in our binational discussions with my counterpart in Russia, Director Viktor Ivanov of the FSKN, in looking at not just how we can interdict and not just how we can go after financiers and traffickers, but just as importantly, how demand can be reduced and how prevention programs can be implemented and treatment programs that can be successful can be put into place.

All of us throughout the world pay an immense toll that drug use and its consequences have taken on our citizens and on our societies. This National Drug Control Strategy, which we believe was – will be helpful to our state and local counterparts here as they develop their own drug strategies, is important. But we also think that this drug strategy can provide assistance to our international partners as they address the full spectrum of the drug problem. We invite the international partners to share in the lessons that the United States has learned about responding to drug use. Drug treatment courts, community anti-drug coalitions, in particular, can be very helpful. And as we worked with Mexico to help open up the first drug court in Monterrey last year, we found that to be a productive relationship. And as we’ve worked with groups that have helped to organize community coalitions to take back their communities, to talk to young people about the dangers of drugs, those have been successful in many parts of the United States. Certainly, more has to be done, but we believe that those are the kind of programs that also can be successful to our foreign partners.

We need to provide a better job of giving out that information and providing that technical assistance. Quite frankly, I think the United States is often recognized as being able to provide certain tools for interdiction, certain levels of technology, certain assistance and cooperative ventures when it comes to investigations. But as many of you know, the vast majority of research that is done on drug treatment is conducted in the United States, and we have those kinds of tools to be able to give away along with the types of things that I mentioned when it came to community coalitions and building pillars in society that can withstand the onslaught of people that are trying to sell those drug wares.

As we’ve seen drug traffickers throughout the world pay their employees in product rather than paying their employees in some type of currency, in fact, that product then is often disseminated to people who become affected and who become addicted.

We’re going to be working bilaterally and through multilateral organizations such as the OAS, CICAD, UNODC and others that we have developed close working relationships to help expand the prevention and the treatment programs.

Finally, I wish to stress that we are going to continue our international assistance to disrupt drug trafficking and production, and that threatens every one of us. Only by working together can we expect to make progress against drugs, and the Obama Administration is strongly committed to implementing a balanced strategy.

With that, I look forward to your questions. Thank you very much. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Jesus Esquivel from Proceso Magazine of Mexico. Sir, in your strategy it says endorsing balanced prevention, treatment, and enforcement. The strategy calls for a 15 percent reduction in the rate of drug use over five years and similar reductions in chronic drug use and drug-related consequences. Do you think this will be fair or enough to combat drugs when Mexico is paying with blood? This kind of – I mean, year after year – I’ve been Washington correspondent for the last 20 years. Year after year, the White House is saying the same thing and nothing makes a difference in the U.S. What are you guys doing about the corruption, drug-related, in the States, for example, in Arizona, when the federal government is investigating for the whole police department of Bisbee, for example? What are you guys doing?

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: I mean, your questions are very good. And as you know, in the year since I’ve had this job, I’ve had four trips to the Southwest border. We released last year with the Attorney General and also with Secretary Napolitano a very good strategy called the Southwest Border Strategy. And that currently in the process of being updated.

Corruption in law enforcement and corruption among officials is not unique to any particular country. We believe we have worked very hard through a variety of checks and balances to deal with corruption, particularly at the local level. You have seen indictments and you have seen successful prosecutions by the various United States Attorneys along the Southwest border, when, in fact, those very few law enforcement officials that do engage in corruption have been arrested.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: Yes, very few. And --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: So I think we take the corruption issues very seriously, as does the Government of Mexico. And as we look at having the number of polygraph examiners expanded, the number of checks and balances that have been put into place to, in fact, uncover when there is corruption, that’s important.

Now, the first part of your question was also very important. Yes, we have talked about the issue of reducing our own demand in the United States. We’re no longer the number one consumer nation per capita, but the amount of drugs that we consume has not only a disastrous effect on people here in the United States, but we know – we recognize and we have talked about it quite openly and quite plainly in remarks that Secretary Clinton and others have made, including myself – about our own shared responsibility and about our own responsibility to reduce that demand.

In President Obama’s 2011 budget request to the Congress is a request for a 13 percent increase in prevention. So we believe that we can make some progress. When we were developing that 15 percent goal, many people said, oh my gosh, that’s why too ambitious. Your question is it’s not ambitious enough. Believe me, in this strategy, it’s – we believe that it’s possible to achieve it if we work very hard. So thank you.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Dmitri Zlodokev of TASS News Agency, Russia. You spoke a couple of – or told a couple of words about your cooperation with Russia. How you would characterize your partnership with your Russian counterparts, or what do you plan to do with Russians? And also, what do you plan to discuss with your Russian colleague, Mr. Ivanov, when you visit Moscow, I believe, May 23rd? Thank you.

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: Yes. So I think a couple important things to mention. Number one, when President Medvedev and President Obama were discussing the various binational work groups that could be put together, the federation very strongly suggested a work group on drug trafficking. Director Ivanov and both presidents, of course, agreed and endorsed that. Director Ivanov was in touch with me within the first week. During last summer, I think we were the very first working group to meet. And we also recognize that in both our countries it’s important to go after financiers and traffickers. And as a result, in our first formal meeting in Moscow in February, we were able to develop relationships and cooperation that has resulted and continues to result in some very enforcement – important enforcement gains.

Director Ivanov recognizes that a balanced strategy within Russia is as important as we recognize here within the United States, that just as I’ve heard quoted in the Russian press that we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem in that country, we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem in the United States. This balanced strategy can be helpful to both of us.

Director Ivanov and I have already discussed some of the important things that we’ll have in our meeting. I think this will be our fourth personal meeting, and that doesn't include phone calls. I cannot think of a more robust or a stronger partnership or a partnership built on trust and credibility – and maybe it’s because we’re two older policemen. Thank you.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Thank you for being here, Mr. Kerlikowske. I am Vanessa de la Torre from Caracol Television from Colombia. The approve of medical marijuana here in Washington, D.C., is only one step, or it looks like only to be one step. It can be understand, like a flexibilization or at least acceptance or more tolerance regarding the use of a drug which is marijuana. How we should understand that, having in mind that in the countries of Latin America in the Andean region we are fighting a war without concrete results while here in the United States the rules looks like being flexible in the way to flexibility?

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: And that’s what it does look like, but let me give you another side of a couple of those facts. First of all, the Obama Administration has made a statement as strongly as possible now for well over a year that the legalization of drugs and the legalization of marijuana is an absolute nonstarter. The Administration is opposed to that. I recently gave a speech in California in which I listed to the California chiefs of police a number of specific reasons why legalization does not make any sense.

Medical marijuana is a bit of a different subject. And as you know, here in the United States, with our federalist society and our 50 different states, as far back as 1996, California passed laws regarding the medicinal use of marijuana. We have seen that grow significantly, particularly in the last several years, not just in that state but now in about 15 states that have – that are dealing with this. And right now, these are somewhat state issues. The Obama Administration believes that science should dictate what a medicine is and not what a popular vote is. There are a number of research programs that are going on to look at what, if any, properties of marijuana could be used for medicinal purposes. But that’s the scientific end.

Those states that have passed these regulations, if you’ve noticed, particularly in the last six months, and also on our website at ONDCP, many of them are reversing in a variety of ways those laws that were passed – laws that were passed with perhaps not adequate information, not enough science.

And so, for instance, in California within the last week, the city of Los Angeles has notified 500 of those dispensaries that they have to close their doors. In the state of Colorado, which recently passed, again, medical marijuana laws, the state of Colorado has a number of new initiatives at the state house to deal with that. Cities and towns and states throughout this country have dealt with some of the difficult issues involving marijuana usage, et cetera, and they’ve actually – they’re dealing with it in some effective ways. And I think that the guidelines that the Attorney General issued to the United States Attorneys that operate within those states that have medical marijuana laws are very helpful. And also within the last week, there was just another recent indictment by the United States Government of a group, a dispensary group that was operating, allegedly, outside the state laws. So we’re making some progress in there.


QUESTION: Will the Obama Administration support or stop the legalization of medical marijuana in the Congress?

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: Here is the issue. One is that this is a ballot initiative in the state of California that has not been passed. And the Department of Justice has some very specific answers to that – to that initiative. So I would actually refer your question on that to the Department of Justice and the Attorney General.

QUESTION: A follow-up, sir?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Gregorio Meraz. I’m a reporter with Televisa. I want to ask you, according to the report, the production of drugs is increasingly becoming domestic problems in U.S. We have seen that many countries with production – drug production are becoming more corrupt and there are many more (inaudible) and more violence, as we have seen in Mexico and Colombia. Do you fear that maybe U.S. can be involved in some similar experience to Colombia and Mexico with increasing number of drugs being produced here?

And I also would like to ask you, there are some reports that the gangs are joining the military in order to gain training and to steal weapons of the military that maybe are going south of the border. Can you comment on that?

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: You know, actually, I have no information about gangs that are joining the U.S. military in order to obtain weapons. Actually, that’s quite a new question for me.

On stopping the guns going across the border, we’re very encouraged by the fact that the eTrace system to trace firearms within Mexico is now in place – the Spanish language version – and that the training is going on along with a number of other things.

Corruption – and I think there was a similar question earlier – you know, corruption in law enforcement agencies or government is something that the United States is well aware of. Law enforcement agencies have put in place a number of, as I mentioned before, checks and balances. The corrupting influence of large amounts of money as a result of drug trafficking are always a concern. And having been a police chief and having been in law enforcement for almost four decades, I clearly recognize that issue.

I think the important part of that is that that recognition exists among all of the different counterparts. And as we have the various programs in place, as we’ve actually seen some indictments of corrupted officials in the United States, and I believe the Attorney General and the United States Department of Justice have placed – and the FBI have placed public corruption investigations at a very high level of their attention, not to mention state and local officials.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Sonia Scott with Globovision, Venezuela. As you put a lot of emphasis trying to highlight this is a new approach, I will like to know is this a recognition that past policies has failed? This more tolerance and less punishment – how to define this new policy to fight drug trafficking and drug consuming – all the things? Thank you.

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I think since President Nixon declared drugs public enemy number one, we’ve been talking about a war on drugs for over 40 years. I don’t think the American public sees a huge level of success – not that there hasn’t been some – in a war on drugs. Calling it a war really limits your resources. And, essentially, the greatest resource in a war is some type of force. Looking at this as both a public safety problem and a public health problem seems to make a lot more sense.

I know, in talking about these policies with my colleagues, former colleagues – police chiefs and sheriffs and the directors of state police authorities throughout the country – they have become quite frustrated at recycling people through a criminal justice system.

We also know that, because of the economy, that incarceration is very expensive, and that if there are treatment programs – and we know there are – that can be successful in treating drug addiction and keeping communities safe, that those treatment programs are about one-half the cost of incarceration.

So I would tell you that whether it’s reflected in the President’s budget request for a 13 percent increase in prevention programs, or whether it’s the recognition among many officials throughout the United States that we need to have a balanced and comprehensive approach to dealing with this, rather than just the criminal justice lens, that’s the voices that you see reflected in this – in President Obama’s strategy.

Way in the back. Yes, sir. Right -- you. Yes, sir. Right here. Right there, sorry.

QUESTION: Thanks. Jerome Socolovsky, from Voice of America. You said before that legalization is a nonstarter. And I’m wondering what you think about decriminalization, as it’s been pursued in some European countries, where you do not -- you lower the -- and perhaps Latin America, as well -- where you actually lower the fines, the penalties on casual drug use, and you actually instruct law enforcement authorities to concentrate on trafficking and serious crimes, rather than casual use.

MR. KERILIKOWSKE: The vast majority of drug law enforcement in the United States is not done at the federal level. And if you look at the indictments in the -- through the federal government, and if you look at the investigations, as many people -- as you probably well know -- with the Drug Enforcement Administration, these are financiers, traffickers, et cetera, that are being sought after.

The majority of arrests are made at the state and the local level. State and local authorities have already developed a series of strategies that prioritize drug investigations, that prioritize arrests. There are state and local authorities that, for instance, will issue citations for people -- adults who are possessing a small amount of marijuana. They have already figured out ways to quite effectively and quite efficiently handle this.

I would caution you that I often hear that law enforcement authorities are spending so much time on essentially minor arrests for small amounts of drugs, that they’re not concentrating on the much more serious crimes. And, actually, I would just tell you that whether it was while I was police chief in Seattle or in Buffalo, that that’s just not -- that that’s basically false. Law enforcement authorities are not spending all of their time on that. Quite often, arrests for small amounts of drugs are dealt with in a variety of ways. And that’s why I think we have seen a proliferation of, now, well over 2,000 drug courts in the United States, which, again, have figured out a very smart way to deal with drug offenders.

All the way in the back. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: My name is Juan Carlos Iragorri. I am the U.S. correspondent of Semana, the leading news magazine in Colombia. Sir, I would like to know precisely what’s new with respect to Colombia in this strategy. Precisely.

MR. KERILIKOWSKE: Precisely what’s new in respect to Colombia is the fact that I think -- and you see how much we have highlighted -- the success that has been gained in Colombia in a variety of ways.

The second thing that’s important is that there are a number of people that probably say, “Well, Colombia has been so successful. Coca production is down. Public security and public safety has increased dramatically. Will the United States continue to be a partner and continue to support Colombia?” The answer to that question very much is yes.

I have visited Colombia. I have had several meetings here, in the United States, with officials representing a variety of the ministries within the government of Colombia. So, for us to continue in the very productive and the very excellent working relationship and partnership, I think, sends a message to other countries. And I think that the success that has been achieved in Colombia is something that we applaud and we recognize, and no one knows more so than the people of Colombia about the terrible tragedies that they went through, and the suffering, and the loss of life.

So, we want to continue our partnership, and we want to continue to support the government of Colombia.


QUESTION: I just wanted to pursue -- my name is Jose Diaz with the Reforma newspaper from Mexico. I just wanted to pursue again the same question as my colleague here. How do you see the efforts of decriminalization in Europe and Latin America? Are they a good sign? Are they a good step in the right direction? Or, basically, the Obama Administration will not judge, you know, the decisions –

MR. KERILIKOWSKE: Can you tell me about any of the specific things that you’re talking about?

QUESTION: Yes. In places like Argentina and Ecuador, the congresses (ph) are, as the colleague was mentioning, trying not to pursue criminally, you know, the consumption of marijuana, but only as an administrative offense. Is that, you know, a step in the right direction or not?

MR. KERILIKOWSKE: So let me tell you a couple of things that the Obama Administration has done. First of all, I would tell you that the Administration, in issuing guidelines to United States Attorneys about how to use finite resources in those states where there is medical marijuana, that’s kind of a common sense approach. And it guides all of those U.S. Attorneys.

There was something else on the tip of my tongue that for some reason escaped me.

The President removed the federal restriction on needle exchange programs. Now, we believe that needle exchange programs that are resulting in reduction in HIV/AIDS transmission, Hepatitis C, but also are part of a comprehensive program to get people who are exchanging needles into treatment programs, and to recognize treatment, that those things are very good.

You know, oftentimes we get asked about, “Well, how do you think about or talk about harm reduction here in the United States?” We actually don’t use that term. And we don’t use that term for a very specific reason, and that is because it is so subject to everyone’s own individual interpretation. I have heard people talk about harm reduction in a discussion about legalization, and I have heard people talk about harm reduction as mentioned in these other ways: decriminalization and et cetera.

So what we do try to do is to talk about the specific examples -- the two, for instance, that I just mentioned -- as a way of looking at drug policy and the way we deal with drugs in a very comprehensive manner, rather than just as we essentially have in the past, through a criminal justice lens.

Yes, you had a question, right here in front.

QUESTION: Hi, I am Andrea Murta from Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper from Brazil. We have been seeing a shift sort of in the rhetoric, when you speak about shared responsibility here in the United States. But when you go outside, to Latin America, to Brazil in particular, you don’t sense that shared responsibility. What even the authorities in Brazil and other countries see is still a very forceful approach, in terms of repression against drugs.

So outside of the United States, in your international cooperation, what do you do -- what are you doing besides repression?

MR. KERILIKOWSKE: Well, I think that the most important thing that we are doing is not only -- putting into place practices other than the things that we actually are fairly good at now. We have technology and investigations and interdictions and systems that, in cooperation among law enforcement agencies, it’s useful.

But, on the other side, when I look at how much work and time and effort has been put into quality drug treatment programs, those programs can be translated, of course, to other countries. And recently in Mexico, we worked with the Government of Mexico, as they opened up their first drug court in Monterrey. Because we have seen 20 years’ worth of drug courts here in the United States that have actually been quite useful and quite successful, and have helped people who have been involved in drug use and arrested for drug use, helped them reintegrate back into society.

The other thing that we learned, certainly from Mexico, is the number of prevention programs and the kits that they have put together for school children within that country to help them.

The last thing I would mention that is far removed from the law enforcement end of all of this is building civil society, or community coalitions. In my office we fund about over 700 small drug-resistant groups of people that do training and education, et cetera, within their own neighborhood. So they’re kind of trusted and respected within that community. The people who do that training have now traveled to a variety of countries in South America to talk about how you can build at the grass roots level, at the community level, the prevention programs and a resistance to drug use that, in the long run, makes cities and towns safer, and of course, make all of us safer here.

MODERATOR: We have time for one last question.

MR. KERILIKOWSKE: Maybe way in the back. Yes, ma’am?

QUESTION: Hello, thank you. Sabine Mueller with ARD German Radio. Sir, I think some people are quite surprised to find you here with us presenting this policy, and not in the White House next to President Obama. One would think this topic -- you said “Public Enemy Number One” -- would warrant a presentation in the White House. Why did this not happen?

MR. KERILIKOWSKE: I did make the presentation yesterday in the White House. It was not open to the press, but the President had asked me to come in and update and spend time with him. He has been engaged in this from the very beginning, from within the first month that I took office, and he had me into the Oval Office to tell me specifically what he expected and what he wanted.

Since that time, I have been able to keep both the President and the President’s staff and the Vice President, who was actually one of the persons who helped create this office over 20 years ago, and who is very engaged in this issue. I have had many opportunities to keep them engaged. I think that’s the reason.

The other part is that, quite frankly, the President has had a number of issues, in particular last week and this week, and it is not for a lack of engagement on his part. It is actually trying to find time on an incredibly busy calendar.

Thank you very much.