Yesterday, during all the hubbub about the Seattle Times, The Stranger, and White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske's sudden request to meet with the Times editorial board—just after they published an unprecedented series of pro-legalization editorials—I went to the Sheraton to hear Gil address the annual luncheon for SAMA (the Science and Management of Addictions).

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On my way downtown, I passed the Times building where a small clutch of protesters held rhyming signs: "Gil Makes Me Ill" and "DEA Go Away" were the most popular. A few blocks closer to downtown, somebody had put up wheat-paste posters reading "De-Fund the Drug Czar."

Inside the Sheraton Ballroom, over 700 people crowded around circular tables set for lunch. The dignitaries sat down front: Jim McDermott, Rob McKenna, Jay Inslee, SPD Chief Diaz, the sheriffs of King and Snohomish counties, Superior Court judges, retired Superior Court judges, mistress of ceremonies Jean Enersen, and on and on.

While the 700 or so SAMA supporters ate tomato-basil soup and chicken, Kerlikowske said... nothing revelatory. He talked about the importance of early intervention for drug addicts, prescription drug abuse, and the Obama administration's opposition to legalizing and regulating marijuana.

"The Obama administration opposes the legalization of marijuana not on ideological grounds," he said, "but because we know that legalization leads to increased use." He also rebuffed the idea that regulating and taxing pot would save money, saying that alcohol and tobacco taxes do not cover the socials costs of the their use.

He pointedly did not address the enormous social and economic costs incurred by forcing drugs onto the black market and then trying to enforce prohibition—the real argument for legalization.

In the middle of his talk, Kerlikowske trotted out an odd bit of data: that "the age of onset for psychosis among marijuana users" comes "three years sooner."

So... we're all on a psychosis-bound train but the potheads get there quicker? Is that what he's saying?

It seemed like a specific research finding that he'd framed broadly and vaguely enough to sound universal and damning—an antiquated, "reefer madness" scare tactic from the 1950s. (Or from the—notoriously ineffective and sometimes counter-productive—D.A.R.E. Program.)

"There is," he concluded, "no legitimate reason to promote or encourage the use" of marijuana. Which isn't the argument we're having about drug policy in this country—nobody's asking the government to get into the business of promoting drug use. The argument is about whether there's a legitimate reason to continue pursuing our failed policy of prohibition.

During his subsequent meeting with the Seattle Times editorial board, Kerlikowske made equally impotent and irrelevant arguments. From the ST's account of the meeting:

When we asked him about legal marijuana he did disagree with us, but so gently that some of the attendees wondered why he had come at all.

Like many powerful people, he was careful what he said, responding to some questions without answering them as they were cast. For example, my first question to him related the costs of marijuana prohibition, and ended with the question of whether they were “worth it”... He didn’t answer it.

The man, of course, is legally bound to oppose any attempts at legalization and regulation.

But the White House's drug czar is making the case in such an empty and specious way, he might as well be arguing for legalization.

And who knows? Given Obama's canny tactics of caution and incrementalism in all things, maybe that's the strategy after all.