ANNAPOLIS -- Republican Edward L. Blanton Jr. thinks Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. may have handed him the issue he needs to unseat the Democratic incumbent in the Nov. 6 election: drug decriminalization.
His long shot campaign has been invigorated by Mr. Curran's statement this week that the idea of decriminalizing minor drug use is worth discussing as one option in the war against drug abuse.
Mr. Blanton is on the attack. He called a news conference yesterday to denounce the incumbent, taped a new radio commercial on the topic to be aired this weekend, and announced that both federal drug czar William J. Bennett and his deputy, Judge Reggie Walton, now plan to appear in Maryland next week on his behalf.
He challenged Mr. Curran to a debate solely on the issue of drug decriminalization. Mr. Blanton's campaign manager said his candidate is considering calling for the death penalty for drug traffickers.
Ever since Mr. Curran's comments were publicized this week, telephones in the Blanton campaign headquarters have been ringing off the hook, according to Mark Rivers, the Blanton campaign manager.
"I guarantee you this is a race. Maryland really does have a race in which a Republican can really win," Mr. Rivers said. "This hits people in the guts. People are angry about this."
But Mr. Curran, seeking his second four-year term as the state's highest law enforcement officer, said he has not changed his position on drugs one bit: He still adamantly, unequivocally opposes the illegal use of drugs.
"Blanton's position is the same as mine. He agrees with me. He's against drugs, and so am I," Mr. Curran said.
"But having said that, as an elected official I'm not afraid to encourage discussion of any important issue," Mr. Curran added. "We can't be silent just because it is a controversial issue. Nothing would ever be accomplished if we are afraid to talk about an issue just because it is controversial."
Mr. Curran also said he agrees with much of what Mr. Bennett has tried to do on the federal level.
The attorney general received unsolicited support yesterday from a Washington-based organization called the Drug Policy Foundation, which maintains "the drug war is lost" and advocates "health-based alternatives" to criminal sanctions and incarceration.
"I think what the attorney general is doing right now is very gutsy and very honest," said Kennington Wall, director of the foundation and president of a separate group called Marylanders for Drug Policy Reform. "He is saying what a lot of attorneys general are thinking. It should be a health problem, not a criminal justice problem. A lot of people in law enforcement are coming to that conclusion."