President seeks shift in drug war

February 10, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Sun Staff Writer

UPPER MARLBORO -- President Clinton, dramatizing a significant shift in the nation's war on drugs, visited a jail here yesterday to underscore his administration's emphasis on treatment -- particularly for hard-core users already behind bars.

The president listened intently to the harrowing account of a former inmate who recently completed the drug-addiction treatment program at the Prince George's County Correctional Center. Then Mr. Clinton provided a testimonial of his own.

"I have the questionable privilege of living in a family that has dealt with both alcoholism and drug abuse," the president said, referring to his stepfather and his brother. "I know treatment works. I also know that it is important to be tough as well as caring." And what we are trying to do today is to start our government on a course that offers the promise of real results for the American people."

That course consists of a $1 billion proposed increase in spending for federal drug control efforts -- the first such increase in two years -- to a total of $13.2 billion. Most of the increase is for drug education and treatment.

For the first time, the interdiction leg of the anti-drug effort -- the seizing and destroying of drugs before they enter the United States -- is slated for a cut, although overall law enforcement would be increased.

The ratio of money spent in the drug war still favors law enforcement over demand reduction efforts by about 60 to 40, an evolution from the end of the Reagan administration, when that ratio was roughly 70 to 30, administration officials said.

"This is a realistic, balanced approach to dealing with the drug problem," said Lee P. Brown, the former New York City police commissioner selected last year to head the administration's drug-control efforts.

Mr. Clinton brought along seven of his Cabinet members, as well as Vice President Al Gore, who said it was useless to talk about fighting crime without a plan to fight drug addiction, too.

"Hard-core drug use is linked to a disproportionate amount of crime and violence," Mr. Gore said. "Drug treatment reduces criminality. It's just that simple."

The most poignant moments in the ceremony came when Joseph Mundo, 43, a recent graduate of "The Awakening" drug treatment program at the Prince George's jail, nervously related his life story -- a story dominated by drug addiction and jail time.

"In 1988, I was introduced to cocaine," he said. "Rock cocaine. I lost my wife, my house. I lost everything."

As Mr. Clinton listened intently, Mr. Mundo finished by saying that he had now been clean for 11 months. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail," he said. "I've lost everything."

With that, the audience of dignitaries, drug counselors and current inmates dressed in orange jumpsuits broke into a standing ovation. It was led by the president himself, who strode over to Mr. Mundo and shook his hand.

The biggest chunk of new money in the president's budget is $355 million earmarked for taking hard-core 74,000 addicts off the streets and into treatment centers. It calls for making available another, unspecified amount of money for the treatment of 64,000 addicts already incarcerated.

Although the president implored Republicans and Democrats not to make the drug war a partisan issue, some Republicans began sniping at it immediately.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman of New York called Mr. Clinton's approach an "invitation to the drug cartels to expand their drug shipments to the United States."

The president's strategy did not originate with liberal Democratic politicians, but with law enforcement officials -- including some in the Reagan administration.

One of them, John C. Lawn, former chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, expressed unqualified support for Mr. Clinton yesterday. "You can have all the law enforcement you want, but you need to reduce the demand to have a lasting impact," Mr. Lawn said.

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