Kerlikowske: Legal pot 'not in my vocabulary'

Kerlikowske: Legal pot 'not in my vocabulary' »Play Video
Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske speaks during an interview with KOMO News on Friday, August 7, 2009.
Less than three months into his job as the nation's Drug Czar, and former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske found himself under fire, quoted as saying "marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit."

Back in Seattle for a roundtable discussion on drug policy, Kerlikowske sat down with KOMO News and addressed the comment.

"I certainly said that legalization is not in the president's vocabulary nor is it in mine," Kerlikowske said. "But the other question was in reference to smoked marijuana. And as we know, the FDA has not determined that smoked marijuana has a value, and this is clearly a medical question and that's where I've been leaving it."

Asked if he regretted what he said, Kerlikowske said, "Sometimes you make a mistake and you work very hard to correct it. That happens. I should've clearly said 'smoked' marijuana and then gone on to say that this is clearly a question that should be answered by the medical community."

Kerlikowske's stand on legalizing marijuana for everyone is more clear-cut.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy, by law, actively works against legalizing drugs.

"You know from the University of Washington, the number-one call from young people for treatment here, after alcohol, is marijuana. So I'm not seeing the benefit to society with legalization at all."

And Kerlikowske sees an even bigger problem with prescription drug abuse.

"Young people look at all this and say, 'Gee, I'm not buying it from behind a convenience store, it's not in a piece of tin foil.' They're pharmaceuticals. Well, these pharmaceuticals can be just as deadly," Kerlikowske said.

Kerlikowske calls Michael Jackson's death a wake-up call. The toxicology report is expected to show the music icon died of a prescription drug overdose.

And the former cop knows, more people die from drug overdose than from gunshot wounds.

"I think people can do something about it," he said. "One, we need a law about how to dispose of drugs safely."

As Seattle's top cop, Kerlikowske was known for his 70-hour work weeks.

That hasn't changed.

"There hasn't been a lot of breaks so far," he said. "But you know, the job is challenging, it's exciting and the responsibilities of trying to address this issue in a much more balanced way is what keeps me energized."

And keeps him busy.

Kerlikowske is travelling the world, shaping the president's national drug control strategy, to be rolled out after the first of the year.

His roundtable this weekend includes U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, as well as law enforcement and health care providers.

He'll attend a total of eight roundtables across the country. His job also takes him to Mexico next month and Afghanistan in the fall.