Decriminalize DrugsI was pleased to finally see two public...


October 21, 1992

Decriminalize Drugs

I was pleased to finally see two public officials discussing the real state of the drug war, in particular prohibition, crime and the rapid spread of AIDS, in the exchange of letters between Mayor Kurt Schmoke and drug czar Bob Martinez (Perspective section, Sept. 27, Oct. 4).

I was astounded by the drug czar's statement that "We tried [legalization] in this country in the 1960s and 70s, and drug use soared." In fact, marijuana has been illegal since 1937 and other drugs have been illegal since 1914.

During the 1960s there were mandatory sentences for drug offenders, and possession of even small amounts of marijuana was a felony in almost all of the United States.

President Nixon declared a war on crime during the 1968 presidential election which became the modern war on drugs.

Indeed, every president since Nixon has declared his version of the drug war. Even President Carter sprayed herbicides on marijuana and opium crops.

This mistake of fact results in a mistaken analysis by Mr. Martinez because it was during this time period of tough laws and aggressive law enforcement that drug use became a part of American culture.

The National Commission of Marijuana and Drug Abuse, appointed by President Nixon in 1972, recommended a different approach to drugs in America. In fact, the commission was the first to apply the term decriminalization to marijuana.

While the federal government ignored the report, states began to re-evaluate their marijuana policies in the 1970s. By 1978, 11 states had decriminalized marijuana possession and over 30 other states (including Maryland) had instituted conditional discharge for first offenders whereby they would not have a criminal record.

Interestingly, since 1978, marijuana use has consistently and dramatically declined. The reform of laws did not necessarily cause the decline, but it is clear that reform also did not prevent it.

Perhaps if the drug czar knew more about the history of drug laws he would understand that laws are not the key to controlling behavior. Cultural controls are much more important than laws.

We have been able to cut nicotine addiction in half in the last 25 years (even though the surgeon general describes it as the most addicting drug) and we have reduced the use of hard alcohol. We did this primarily through educational campaigns and minimal reliance on laws.

If the drug czar understood this reality, we could begin to withdraw the troops from the failed drug war and begin to put in their places prevention, treatment and education policies that have a history of making a real difference.

Kevin B. Zeese


The writer is vice president of the Drug Policy Foundation.


Drage Vukcevich can tell tales forever of the alleged democratic credentials of the tiny Serbian kingdom of the past (letter, Oct. 15); they do not mean a thing to the victims of atrocities committed by Serbia today.

Political aberrations abound in every culture, and Serbia's once-upon-a-time pluralism does not have anything to do with William Pfaff's comment (Opinion * Commentary, Sept. 29). His statement is relevant and true.

In Communist Yugoslavia, nationalities were at peace with each other. Ironic as it may be, the victims of Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia would prefer communist rule over the Serbian repression. At least they could stay alive under the communist rule.

Mr. Vukcevich needs to bring rationale to his comparisons. There is nothing in common between Muammar el Kadafi and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and they do not compare with the Ottoman Empire, either.

Industrial revolution was a Western European phenomenon. It did not touch South America, Central America, Asia and Africa, either. Then why single out the Balkans just because they were ruled by Muslims?

Mr. Vukcevich is not alone in holding stereotypical beliefs about Islam and Muslims. Warlords back in Bosnia share Mr. Vukcevich's perverse logic.

That is why day and night they invoke the fears of "resurgent Islam in the heart of Europe" to justify their repression, despite the fact that Muslims in Bosnia are the most secularized Muslims to be found anywhere.

Shahid Mahmud



I read with keen interest and pleasure Mark Bomster's account (Oct. 14) of Molefi Kete Asante's remarks to a group of Maryland educators relative to the significance and value of Afrocentricity as a part of the curricula of Maryland and our nation's public schools.

I am in total agreement with Dr. Asante's observation, as reported in The Sun, "When we say 'Afrocentricity,' what we really mean is . . . connecting the child to the content." . . .

The current focus and emphasis of Afrocentricity under the overall guidance and assistance of Dr. Asante is to provide greater depth and breadth.

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