BETHESDA -- Edward L. Blanton, the Republican candidate for attorney general, drew a deputy drug czar from Washington and nearly a dozen Harford County students yesterday to his latest campaign event against the idea of decriminalizing drugs -- or even talking about it.
For the past week, Mr. Blanton has sharply attacked his Democratic opponent, incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr., for suggesting that drug decriminalization should be discussed as an option in the war against drugs.
Mr. Curran has responded that he, like Mr. Blanton, opposes drug abuse and therefore opposes drug decriminalization. But he said the idea of decriminalizing minor drug use as a way of removing some of the profit motive from the violent drug trade should at least be open for discussion.
That notion prompted a visit on Mr. Blanton's behalf yesterday by Reggie B. Walton, the deputy "drug czar" for the federal government, who labeled Mr. Curran's suggestion "counterproductive."
Mr. Walton, a former Superior Court judge in the District of Columbia, did not formally endorse Mr. Blanton, saying he would have made a similar appearance opposing drug decriminalization even if Mr. Blanton had been a Democrat.
Mr. Walton said the drug problem is a "non-partisan issue" and noted that his office has in the past supported anti-drug efforts by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat.
Mr. Blanton said the attorney general's comments "indicate his heart is not in [the fight against drugs]."
Three carloads of students from Bel Air High School traveled to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School to show their support for the Republican candidate for attorney general. The trip was arranged by Carol Sporney, mother of one of the students and a niece of Mr. Blanton.
Students from Bel Air and Bethesda-Chevy Chase agreed yesterday that decriminalizing drugs would send a "mixed message" that would confuse students who have been drilled for years about the evils of drug use and abuse. But the students, many of whom said they were active in their local Students Against Drunk Driving programs, disagreed on whether the idea of drug decriminalization should even be discussed.
Glenn Reese, a 17-year-old senior from Bethesda, said the almost-daily reports of drug-related violence prove current anti-drug programs are not working. He said he opposes decriminalization but said, "I think we should talk about it."
Scott Burger of Bel Air, also a 17-year-old senior, disagreed, saying, "I think [drugs] should be illegal. I don't think we should talk about [decriminalization]."
Mrs. Sporney said she asked Bel Air High School Principal William M. Ekey to authorize the trip after her son Marty, an 18-year-old senior, heard of Mr. Curran's remarks and "wanted to do something about it." The Bel Air students, who described themselves as active Republicans, contacted the Blanton campaign to offer their help.
Mr. Ekey said Harford County school policy encourages students to be politically active and debate public issues. He said it authorizes excused absences for political activities in an election year.
"I was looking at it as an opportunity for some of our kids -- who sometimes are accused of being non-political or involved -- to express support for a political candidate and a stance on an issue that is important for us," Mr. Ekey said.
Mr. Curran applauded the involvement of school students in a campaign, even if they were appearing on behalf of his opponent, and he said he shared their opposition to drug abuse.
"Generally speaking, I think it is healthy when young people -- Democrats or Republicans -- take positions on key issues," he said. "I wish more would speak up. This is a tough problem. It's going to take a lot of people speaking up, a lot of ideas. Somewhere out there, there must be 100 good, innovative ideas. Let's talk about it. That is all I have ever said."