For decriminalization

Forum Extra

March 12, 1992

DR. NEIL SOLOMON'S argument against the decriminalization of drugs (Other Voices, Feb. 18) was way off the mark.

Dr. Solomon, who heads Governor Schaefer's drug and alcohol commission, acknowledges that "old approaches" aren't working, and he calls for "new approaches." He then goes on to denigrate any form of decriminalization -- completely ignoring the much greater social cost of such legal drugs as tobacco and alcohol. Then Dr. Solomon completely contradicts his own acknowledgment that "old approaches" don't work by calling for more of the same old impotent enforcement and punishment.

The body of Dr. Solomon's argument encompasses his very understandable emotional shock at seeing large numbers of heroin addicts in one place in Zurich's "Needle Park." But he misses the point. What's the difference between having addicts "transform a century-old, once beautifully landscaped park into a cesspool" and having those very same addicts make cesspools of many neighborhoods in Baltimore? It's less conspicuous, I'm sure, to high-income suburban professionals, but not to city residents whose neighborhoods are ruined.

Now that Needle Park is closed down, where will the addicts go? Where will they buy the drugs that are the most important thing in their miserable lives? Where will they shoot up? Whom will they share needles with? Where will they leave their HIV-infected needles? Who will be shot in street turf wars?

Having a Needle Park, of course, does not address the social causes of run-away drug addiction. All it does is get most drugs out of most neighborhoods and perhaps give the communities a chance to breathe again and perhaps to meet and organize in their mutual interests. A Needle Park is a Band-Aid, short-term solution any city could implement.

A long-term solution would be for the federal government to treat all drugs as a medical problem and to dispense heroin and cocaine at low or no cost, just as it presently permits the dispensing of methadone. This would take all the profit out of pushing these drugs. The entire business, despite all of its Mafia and CIA connections, would fall apart. No one would have a vested interest in addicting others to drugs. The turf wars would stop. We could begin to empty our jails, cease building new ones and put our cops and courts to better use.

A. Robert Kaufman


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