Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday that as national drug czar, he would take a balanced, science-based approach to the job.
He also told the Senate Judiciary Committee he will help develop a strategy to help address drug-related violence along the Mexican border.
"Our nation's demand for drugs often fuels drug production and trafficking, as well as violence and corruption, within other nations," Kerlikowske said. "Domestic drug use directly funds the terrible drug-related crime currently wracking Mexico and fuels illegal armed groups in Colombia."
While he and other officials would work to reduce the international drug supply, "the greatest contribution we can make toward stability would be to reduce our demand for illicit drugs" in the United States, Kerlikowske said.
Nominated last month
President Barack Obama last month nominated Kerlikowske, 59, as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, last month. The position is commonly known as the drug czar.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman and a former prosecutor, said he favors tough enforcement of anti-drug laws and punishment for people who commit serious crimes.
"But I also know that punishment alone will not solve the problems of drugs and violence in our rural communities," said Leahy, D-Vt. "I am pleased that Mr. Kerlikowske supports combating drug use and crime with all the tools at our disposal, including enforcement, prevention and treatment."
Kerlikowske's nomination, which requires Senate approval, comes at a crucial time, Leahy said. In addition to the problems posed by Mexican drug cartels, the war in Afghanistan is complicated by the illegal drug trade there, the senator said.
Obama's choice of Kerlikowske and an increased emphasis on alternative drug courts signal a sharp departure from Bush administration policies, from cutting the foreign supply to curbing U.S. drug use.
Kerlikowske, a 36-year law enforcement veteran, has been Seattle chief for nearly nine years.
Previously worked in Florida
Before joining the Seattle force, he held top police positions in two Florida cities — Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie — and was police commissioner in Buffalo, N.Y. He served in the Clinton administration as deputy director of the Justice Department office that promotes community policing. He is president of Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, which represents the 56 largest law enforcement agencies in the country.
The drug policy coordinator's office will lose its Cabinet-level status under Obama, in part due to Vice President Joe Biden's experience and knowledge about federal drug policy. Biden helped create the post in the late 1980s while he was in the Senate.