ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly passed a law two years ago that punishes drug dealers where it hurts the most, allowing police to confiscate money and property obtained through illegal drug trafficking.
Now a Carroll delegate wants to ensure that those assets will be used to assistthe addicted, the often overlooked victims of the drug trade, and those working to bring drug dealers to justice.
Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that the state "should put every dollar we can get" toward drug treatment programs and law enforcement agencies investigating and busting drug dealers. He is sponsoring a bill that would target assets seized under state drug laws toward those purposes at both the state and local levels.
Currently, the money and proceeds of the property forfeited can be used to plug holes anywhere in the state operating budget or its equivalent in county and municipal jurisdictions. However, the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission said it is "a priority" to dedicate some portion of the proceeds to law enforcement.
Matthews, who introduced a similar bill last year that was killed by the same committee, received support Wednesday from the Maryland State's Attorneys Association. The bill was opposed by both the Maryland Association of Counties Inc. and the Prince George's County government, which object to designating revenue for specific programs.
In his testimony, Matthews said that Maryland's drug addict population is estimated at about 150,000 but that only about 14,000 state-financed drug treatment slots are available. The majority of those are for outpatient counseling, leaving relatively few options for addicts needing long-term or intensive treatment, he said.
He noted that about 7,400 drug-addicted babies were born in Maryland in 1989, many to women who were awaiting treatment. A state task force studying the problem estimated that Maryland would spend a total of $378 million on those babies by the time they reach age 18.
"The magnitude of the drug problem is overwhelming," he said. "Using illegal drug profits to fight drug abuse is a valid way to generate the vital funds we need."
The Maryland State Police reported that $450,000 was placed in the state general fund from the seizureof drug money and assets in fiscal 1990.
Joseph I. Cassilly, Harford County state's attorney and a representative of the state association, said targeting the money also would send a positive message to Maryland residents and law enforcement personnel.
"Taxpayers feel a real sense of being beleaguered and beat up on to have to pay to goafter these dealers who are wreaking havoc and misery," he said. "Bytaking their money and using it against them, you can improve moraleas far as the war on drugs and improve the situation as far as the people that have to pay for it."
Under county ordinance, assets seized by Carroll law enforcement agencies are returned to the County Narcotics Task Force budget, said county State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman.
The Maryland Association of Counties objected to the bill because it wants to preserve the right of county elected officials "to make budgetary decisions regarding the best allocation of resources."The organization said counties already are devoting significant resources toward battling drug trafficking and substance abuse.
The Prince George's government said it would be undesirable to have financing levels for drug-related programs fluctuate from year to year basedon forfeiture proceeds. Dedicating revenue to specific programs, thegovernment said, generally is poor public policy. Since the revenue generated would not be the result of a new tax, it would not be justified to divert it for specific uses, the government said.
Staff writer Maria Archangelo contributed to this story.