March 11, 2009 / 4:56 AM / 11 years ago

Obama to name Seattle police chief as drug czar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has decided to name Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to lead the U.S. fight against illegal drug trafficking but will remove the job’s designation as a Cabinet post, an administration official said on Wednesday.

Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske talks to a protestor while he patrols the streets near Westlake Park in downtown Seattle where some 1,000 anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protestors are gathering, November 30, 2000. REUTERS/Anthony P.

Vice President Joe Biden will announce the decision to name Kerlikowske as U.S. drug czar at an event on Wednesday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kerlikowske would head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which was elevated to Cabinet level under former President George W. Bush.

The administration official played down the importance of removing the post from the Cabinet, saying the vice president had a great deal of knowledge about drug control policy and would be working closely with Kerlikowske.

“Whether a position is Cabinet-level or not is less important than whether the director will have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made,” the official said. “The director-designate will have full access and a direct line to the president and vice president.”

The nomination of Kerlikowske would end a long search for a candidate to oversee U.S. efforts to fight illegal drugs. Kerlikowske was long speculated to be the front-runner, but revelations about his stepson’s arrest on drug-related charges complicated the nomination process, The Washington Post said.

Kerlikowske was expected to mention his family’s struggle with drug abuse at the event announcing his nomination, the Post said. Obama admitted using cocaine as a teenager in his memoir “Dreams from My Father.”

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s strategy for combating illegal drugs involves prevention, reducing abuse and addiction, and disrupting the market for illegal drugs.

A report by the office in January found that the number of high school students using drugs dropped by 900,000 during the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has begun to grapple with the problem of drug trafficking from Mexico and how U.S. law enforcement can help Mexico with its crackdown on drug gangs.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met recently with Mexican authorities to discuss the issue.

Reporting by JoAnne Allen and David Alexander; Editing by Eric Beech

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