ANNAPOLIS -- Decriminalization of minor drug use is an option in the war against drugs that is worth discussing, the state's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., said yesterday.
The view was quickly denounced by Mr. Curran's Republican opponent for attorney general. A spokesman for Edward L. Blanton said the issue of drug decriminalization should not even be put on the table. He added that Mr. Curran, a Democrat, should be ashamed of himself for even suggesting such an idea.
"He is advocating unconditional surrender to drugs, and that is the sign of a quitter or coward," charged Mark Rivers, Mr. Blanton's campaign manager. "I would like to see Joe Curran go into high schools to tell parents or principals that drugs should be decriminalized, or see him tell the family of Len Bias that drugs should be decriminalized, or let him tell the cop on the beat that drugs should be decriminalized."
"Ed Blanton unequivocally opposes the decriminalization of drugs. To decriminalize drugs is to raise the white flag in the war against drugs," Mr. Rivers said.
Mr. Curran's thoughts on drug decriminalization were first expressed in an interview Wednesday with editors of Chesapeake Publishing. An article in yesterday's editions of the Easton Star-Democrat quoted Mr. Curran as saying decriminalization could take some of the profit motive out of drug dealing, which in turn might reduce drug-related violence. He did not say what kinds or amounts of drugs should be considered for decriminalization.
"My real concern is when you have lucrative drug trafficking and dealers are shooting each other when you invade their turf. I suppose many people wouldn't be concerned if one drug dealer kills another, but when police are killed, or innocent people are killed, that's different," he said yesterday.
"Should we ever dare think about trying to take the profit out of the drug trade? My response was: It is something at least worth thinking about down the road."
Mr. Curran said yesterday that he may have been "too honest" for his own good, in the earlier interview.
"I was trying to be as honest as I could about a very difficult social problem," Mr. Curran said. "Maybe I'm too much of a lawyer, but a lawyer looks at all options. This would be one of the last ones I'd ever look at. All I ever said is it would be worth discussing, and maybe it would be summarily rejected."
As he did before the Chesapeake Publishing editors, he reiterated his support for Gov. William Donald Schaefer's initiatives against drug kingpins and drug users.
"I indicated our office stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Governor Schaefer in going after the drug dealers. I even talked about our new innovative income tax approach of putting dealers into jail through enforcement of income tax laws," Mr. Curran said. He added that he personally is opposed not only to drug use, but to alcohol and tobacco use as well, seeing all three as harmful.
"I support efforts to discourage users, taking away their professional licenses," he said. "But when you're fighting a war, you at least think about other options. You just don't ignore there are other options.
Mr. Curran added that he would never consider decriminalization of drugs "without a clear understanding it would cause other problems," possibly including initial increases in experimental drug use, loss of productivity or expansion in the need for counseling, treatment or other services.
The experience in countries such as Denmark that have decriminalized "soft drugs" should be studied as part of any decriminalization discussion, he said.
Mr. Curran's remarks are similar to those made in the past by Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Governor Schaefer, who distanced himself from Mr. Schmoke's thoughts on decriminalization, also disagreed with Mr. Curran.
"My answer is, I'm opposed to it, and always will be opposed to it," Mr. Schaefer said.