As last resort, Curran might ease drug laws

October 26, 1990|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

As a last resort, society might have to consider decriminalizing drugs as a way to win the war on drugs, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has said.

Curran strongly asserted yesterday that he still favors all-out law enforcement and education efforts "to combat the tragedy of drugs." But if that fails, he said, "I think it would be prudent to at least open up a debate on decriminalizing drugs as a last alternative rather than giving up."

With the general election only 11 days away, Curran, a Democrat, found himself responding to questions from reporters about his views on a controversial subject -- decriminalization of drugs.

Curran initially made his statements on decriminalization during an interview Wednesday in Annapolis with reporters and editors of the Chesapeake Publishing Co., which publishes a string of newspapers in Maryland.

He said he didn't think his statements would lead to any controversy when he made them because he thought the interview was off the record and was intended only for Chesapeake Publishing to use to assess his worthiness for endorsement. But his comments appeared in yesterday's editions of the Easton Star-Democrat.

"I certainly wasn't on a political suicide mission," Curran said. "I was asked a question and I was trying to meet it head on. I've always felt throughout my 32 years of political life it is better to be candid with the voters. Then let them decide."

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sparked a controversy two years ago when he called for a national debate on decriminalization of drugs. And in discussions that followed, Schmoke advocated eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana and for shifting resources from interdiction to drug abuse prevention.

Curran's Republican opponent, Towson attorney Edward L. Blanton Jr., quickly labeled Curran's statements "a gross disservice to the law enforcement officers of this state and a terrible message to send to our children."

Blanton said he vehemently opposes even considering legalizing drugs because "decriminalization is not the last option before surrendering. It is surrender."

Curran stressed that he was not saying drugs should be legalized, but that it would be wise to open debate on the subject.

"I've watched drug violence grow and grow. I've seen the murder of police officers and innocent citizens and, if everything else fails, I don't want to sit around wringing my hands and thinking there is nothing left but surrender," he said.

Society needs to have some option left, Curran said, and "if society considers decriminalization and rejects it, then so be it."

The bottom line, he said, is to take the profit out of drug dealing and decriminalization is just one way.

Asked which drugs should be considered for decriminalization, Curran said he hadn't thought that far "because I'm just dealing in theory right now."

"The attorney general's statements are a gross disservice to the law enforcement officers of our state who are risking their lives every day fighting the war on drugs for us," Blanton said. "And after teaching our children to say no to drugs, are Mr. Curran's statements now telling them that, well, maybe it's not that bad? If so, it's a terrible message."

"That's just nonsense on his part, pure political rhetoric," Curran responded.

Police officers are doing a tremendous job fighting the war on drugs against very trying circumstances, Curran said, and, "We need more police, more prosecutors and more jails for this war."

The state's top law enforcement officer said he supports Gov. William Donald Schaefer's anti-drug initiatives, which include education and denying convicted drugs users certain state-issued licenses.

Curran said under his tenure, the attorney general's office has adopted a policy of going after suspected drug dealers. His office also has been looking into the income tax records of such suspects and comparing those with their lifestyles, he said.

"Even if they haven't been convicted of a drug offense, if we can prove that they have no means to support that lifestyle other than drug dealing, we can seek forfeiture of their assests," said Curran. His office has sought forfeiture in four cases and has 30 more pending, he added.

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