Legalization Would Worsen Drug Problem Drug Czar Answers Mayor

October 04, 1992

Last week, Perspective published the text of a letter fro Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to Bob Martinez, the federal "drug czar." The Schmoke letter said law enforcement efforts were not controlling drugs, which needed to be treated more as a public health problem. Here is the text of the reply from Mr. Martinez, dated September 30.

Mayor Schmoke:

Thank you for sharing your views on the President's National Drug Control Strategy. I welcome not only your comments, but those of all the mayors, legislators, and other city and state officials around the country who have shared their experiences and insights with us. I sought this counsel in good faith, and I regard it as an important contribution to the process by which the National Strategy is developed. However, because you, unlike the other officials with whom we have consulted, have chosen to publish your letter as a means of publicizing your views, I am compelled to reply in like fashion.

I appreciate the fact that, as Baltimore's mayor, you must confront every day the tragic consequences of drug use and drug trafficking. I can understand your frustration. But the solutions proposed in your letter would only increase, not lessen, our nation's drug problem.

In your letter you called the Bush Administration's drug strategy "flawed," citing the "worsening state of drug use and drug-related crime nationally over the last four years." Worsening? Let's look at the facts. You conceded that the use of "certain drugs" by young people has declined, but apparently you regarded the trend as insignificant. Well, it's not. Young people are the future of our country, and if we can succeed in turning them away from drugs, we can make real progress. Since 1988, adolescent drug use is down 27 percent, and down 58 percent since 1985. Even more impressive, adolescent use of cocaine (one of your "certain drugs") is down 79 percent since 1985.

Among the general populace the trend, although less dramatic, is still downward. Overall drug use is down by 13 percent since 1988, and by 45 percent since 1985. The decline in cocaine use is even greater. So, to pose your own rhetorical question: "What has our country bought for the $45 billion spent on the war on drugs?" Just the lives and the futures of several million of our fellow citizens and young people. Not a bad bargain, especially if you happen to be a parent of one of those young people.

Although you don't come right out and say you favor legalizing heroin, cocaine, PCP, and the other illicit drugs, your letter makes it very clear that this is indeed your preferred solution to the drug problem. But rather than deal with the issue forthrightly, you seem to want to hide behind a smokescreen of "public health approaches," and admonitions to regard drug addiction as "a disease to be treated, not a crime to be prosecuted."

Actually, the National Drug Control Strategy does regard drug addiction as a disease. That is why the President sought -- with less than enthusiastic Congressional approval, I might add -- to double Federal support for drug treatment over the past four years. Your own city has benefited from these new funds. The Administration has also led the way in increasing support for research on new treatment approaches and new medications with which to treat addiction. Unfortunately, the Congress has consistently failed to fully fund the President's drug treatment budget, eliminating over 80,000 persons from drug treatment rolls over the past three years. State legislatures also have given drug treatment a lower priority than the President; in many States, funding for drug treatment has been reduced at the same time Federal support has been growing.

While we treat the drug addict with compassion, however, we should treat the drug dealer with contempt. In my visits to inner city neighborhoods and public housing sites around the country, FTC residents have spoken movingly about the need to take the drug pushers and hoodlums off their streets so their children can play and walk to school without fear. Our job as public officials ought to be to do everything within our power to support our law-abiding citizens by keeping poisonous drugs away from the children, and by dealing firmly with those who would transform our neighborhoods into lawless free-fire zones.

Legalizing drugs would worsen the problem, not solve it. We tried it in this country in the 1960s and '70s, and drug use soared. Italy tried it in the 1980s, and drug addiction increased exponentially. They recently recriminalized. The Netherlands tried it, and as a result street crime increased and Dutch cities became flooded with addicts from neighboring countries. The prospect of legalizing drugs may make for an interesting parlor room discussion, but as a policy for this Nation it would spell only disaster.

Sincerely,

Bob Martinez

Director

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