Today, media reported that President-elect Donald Trump will nominate General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly served as head of Southcom, overseeing drug war efforts in Latin America under the Obama Administration.
“This is looking really bad,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “First Sessions for Attorney General, then Price at HHS, and now yet another old-style drug war character for Homeland Security. It looks like Donald Trump is revving up to re-launch the failed drug war.”
In 2014, Kelly told a Congressional hearing that marijuana legalization in the U.S. was undermining U.S relations with countries in Latin America. Kelly commented that governments were “confused by the signals that our legalization sends, and when they’re investing so much in resources and blood they have to question that.” Kelly claimed that Latin American leaders were in “disbelief” that states were legalizing marijuana – despite the fact that many Latin America countries have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, or explored doing so.
Despite the Defense Department’s billion-dollar counter-narcotics annual budget, Kelly also claimed in a separate hearing in 2014 that he needed more funding to fight the drug war, saying that a lack of resources means he has to “simply sit and watch” drug traffickers as they move their supplies, and are unable to interdict 74% of smuggling. Two weeks later, this time at a press conference in Latin America, Kelly was talking about how successful interdiction efforts were in the region, with his Guatemalan counterpart extolling a 62% reduction in drug flow, seemingly contradicting Kelly’s earlier comments to Congress.
In April 2016, he testified before a Senate Committee that in the mid-1960s, “the use of drugs became literally cool as projected by Hollywood, social progressives, and even Harvard professors.” When discussing people who use drugs, he also said that “most of these abusers started with the gateway drug that marijuana most certainly is.”
While Trump pledged to respect state-level marijuana reforms during the presidential campaign, he named a dedicated opponent of marijuana reform and longtime drug war extremist, Senator Jeff Sessions, as attorney general. Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Price, who Trump selected as director of health and human services, has voted against key medical marijuana measures in Congress. And today, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who sued the state of Colorado to block marijuana legalization, was selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Kelly is a big-time drug war zealot,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs. “As head of Southern Command he demonstrated that he is a true believer in the drug war, and it’s incredibly worrying that he could now head up Homeland Security.”