This morning I joined with members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and delivered 52,000 petition signatures to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske on behalf of the Just Say Now campaign.
Daniel Pacheco, a Georgetown University student from Colombia and a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, handed the petition to Kerlikowske at a press conference held by his office at the National Press Club. The petition asks President Obama to end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana.
Daniel asked Kerlikowske why he opposed legalizing marijuana, since President Calderon of Mexico has said it could be helpful in fighting the Mexican drug cartels. Kerlikowske said that since marijuana comprised such a small percentage of drug cartel profits, legalizing marijuana would not have any impact on their activity.
“I don’t think that if they lose a small part of their revenue from legalizing marijuana that they’re going to go to work for Coca Cola or Microsoft,” he chuckled.
Daniel cited a statistic mentioned in a report from Kerlikowske’s own office in 2006 (PDF), offered by Kerlikowske’s predecessor John Walters in testimony before Congress, to the effect that “over 60% of Mexican drug cartel profits from the United States are from marijuana.”
Kerlikowski said that those statistics are “old” and no longer valid, but did not offer any other estimates.
Kerlikowske also implied that Calderon was an enthusiastic drug warrior, when in fact he has called for a discussion of legalizing marijuana with President Obama, which Kerlikowske rebuffed as a “non-starter.” Evidently he missed the three days of debate that Calderon hosted on Mexican TV recently to discuss drug policy and the possibility of legalizing marijuana.
The entire event, supposedly a “press conference,” had almost no press and was full of people from Kerlikowske’s office. When Daniel asked if he could approach Kerlikowske and hand him the petition signatures, the staff yelled “no!” (you can hear it at the end of the video).
Afterwards, the HHS press person dragged Aaron Houston, the Executive Director of SSDP, into the hall and told him he looked “nefarious.”
It was great to be there with Daniel, who was superb, and watch him penetrate the bubble that the culture warriors have ensconced themselves in. Daniel is amazingly courageous, having organized a march in Bogota, Colombia against President Uribe’s attempts to roll back the country’s rules allowing personal drug use.
A bunch of aging culture warriors living in a vacuum were no match for Daniel’s conviction and intelligence. I hope the people who signed the petition can watch the video and take pride that their voices were heard by the White House.
DANIEL PACHECO: Good morning, my name is Daniel Pacheco. I am a Colombian student at Georgetown. Mr. Kerlikowske, I come here on behalf of 52,000 Americans who have signed on to the Just Say Now campaign, and more than 28,000 Mexicans who have died because of the drug violence, to ask you to legalize marijuana.
My question — and I do agree with your panel that one of the most difficult problems toward that breaking through drugs and the negative forces they have is denying the fact that they are a problem.
My question is regarding President Caldron and the President of Colombia’s statement, saying that drug legalization, and marijuana legalization here in the US, would be highly helpful to us in the south to fight criminal organizations. Why do you deny that this is an option? Thank you.
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: There’s so many reasons that the administration denies…uh uh, is certainly opposed to legalization. But let me just concentrate on the issue of Mexico and our recent history in Colombia. Currently, the cartels that are operating in Mexico right now are criminal enterprises. There’s no one with any vast experience at all with law enforcement and prosecution and criminal justice that believes that any of those organizations are going to be transformed if even a small amount of their revenue is taken out, for instance legalizing marijuana. They’re involved in extortion and arson and kidnapping and human trafficking and selling protection and on and on.
I don’t think that if they lose a small part of their revenue from legalizing marijuana that they’re going to go to work for Coca Cola or Microsoft. They’re not going to change, and so this is the fight that President Calderon has, as to who is going to run that country and who is going to…who’s hands it will rest in.
It’s democratically elected people and officials, and governmental officials, or cartels that they’re just so engaged in these criminal enterprises, and I admire him, and I admire his administration and his commitment, as so many of us do. But I think if we look at Colombia, and Plan Colombia, we can clearly see successes and reductions in violence, and improvements in safety and security in Colombia, and I’m very hopeful that President Calderon’s steadfast opposition to organized criminals and the horrific acts that they are committing uh will result in improved safety and security in that nation.
PACHECO: Respectfully, I do think that you’re downplaying the importance of marijuana in the drug cartels. We have statistics that say that about 70% of the profits of drug cartels comes from marijuana and when there are thousands of victims, pouring out of Mexico and Colombia, I would have to mention the recent death of at least 30 policemen during this month. It seems that downplaying the influence that drugs have on illegal organizations, is, well, disrespectful for the victims of the war on drugs.
KERLIKOWSKE: The number that has been often cited in the press — 58% to 60% of cartel revenues comes — was introduced by ONDCP in 2006. Unfortunately, the history is that it was based on 1997 information. Everyone that recognizes these cartels clearly understands that their revenues have changed a lot since 1997. There are different drugs, they are involved with different criminal enterprises, so people that continue — and we really reject trying to continue to use a number that is now 13 to 14 years old, about how much money comes from marijuana. So, we strongly believe we see significantly less than the numbers cited from 14 years ago.
PACHECO: Excuse me, can I approach you to… (walks up to panel to hand petition to Kerlikowske)
STAFFERS: No, no.